In early part of autumn semester, on the occasion of independence day of India, the IEEE students’ chapter of IIT Kharagpur organized a hardware hackathon with the theme “Happy Ageing: Ambient Assisted Living for the Elderly” and focussed on the concept of making devices to help the ageing lot using Arduino and simple sensors. It was a fully sponsored 24 hour hackathon and with no other plans in mind at the time, me and two of my friends decided to participate in the event as a team.
Frankly speaking, the idea of ours was the best part of the our project. A walking stick used by blind and elderly people. Make it smart. Make it interactive. Make it more than just a stick. Turn it into a Laathi (Hindi for walking stick).
The idea involved an ultrasonic sensor that could detect obstacles from a distance and a digital compass module, all attached to a single Arduino microcontroller. The Arduino was paired with an Android smartphone which had a companion app that was also built during the same time. The Internet enabled smartphone would send directions as headings to the stick which would then corelate the heading of the digital compass and thus lead the visually impaired user towards the destinations by following the direction.
The app was written in the MIT scratch programming language using the app inventor SDK. The SDK was something unknown to me the day before the hackathon and 24 hours was all it took to make a fully featured application with complete bluetooth integration, GPS coordinate calculation and parsing the Google Maps API for directions. The API of Google maps generates a lot of coordinate values which lead to the destination address. The file thus generated had to be parsed and the coordinates extracted in order, which was the most challenging part of the project in my opinion. The User could also enter the destination via voice input, which was a late added feature (minutes before the final presentation 😛 )
Overall it was a great experience, added to my skill set with the app inventor and led to a better understanding of GPS coordinates, declination and other related concepts, along with the way Google Maps API. We came in 3rd overall for the effort and it was nevertheless an awesome time we had.