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College of Engineering and Computing


rendering oh human wearing pathfinder device on sidewalk next to car

Senior Capstone Project Spotlight: Pathfinder

May 30, 2019

Electrical engineering students at the University of South Carolina College of Engineering and Computing have developed technology to help people who are visually impaired and workers in low visibility environments as part of their Senior Capstone Design Project. Over the course of the 2018-19 school year, seniors Dhiyab Al Said, Andrew Dulop, Miles Leonard-Albert and James Splawn designed an electronic, wearable vest that detects obstacles in the user’s path.

The prototype uses LiDAR sensors to send out laser arrays and return data on the distance of scanned objects, creating a safe zone around the user. As obstacles are detected, software algorithms process feedback data, set object priorities, and send the user directional haptic notification commands. Users of the vest follow haptic commands to navigate safely around, above or below objects.

A student wears the pathfinder vestA microcontroller serves as the processor for the system, interpreting the distance measurements from the sensors and prioritizing the data based on proximity to the user and distance from their straightforward path. For example, an object directly in front of the user would take priority over an object to either side.

“Our team’s goal was to promote independence and enhance the quality of life for the visually-impaired,” Splawn said.

The team also emphasized the potential application for firefighters, rescue workers or other professionals that may need assistance in low-visibility environments.

Leonard-Albert said, “This system will serve as a proof of concept prototype, with many possible improvements available to make it a great aid to users.”

The team’s prototype was displayed during the Senior Capstone Design presentations on Friday, April 26 at the Swearingen Engineering Building.

The Senior Capstone Design Program challenges students to work on a hands-on project for two semesters during their senior year. Electrical engineering students plan and execute a design of an electrical and electronic system using the theory and skills they have learned in prior engineering courses. Many Capstone Designed Projects are designed in conjunction with industry and private sponsors to solve their business problems.