BIN LIU’S FATHER HAS GLAUCOMA. The condition causes damage to the optic nerve and can result in gradual narrowing of peripheral vision and, if untreated, it can progress to complete vision loss. “He’s a very, very stubborn guy. And I don’t see him using a cane or a guide dog,” he says. He knew any visual aid his father considered would have to be discreet. Finding nothing suitable on the market, Lui, a University of Toronto civil engineer grad, decided to design his own solution.
BuzzClip is an assistive device that can be held or clipped onto clothing or a cane. Using sonar, it locates obstacles and notifies the user with a vibrating pulse that changes as objects get closer. And as Liu explains, the echolocation technology can sense something as small as the thinnest of tree branches – a millimetre in diameter, to be exact. Last year the device garnered an award for innovation and, since launching in 2016, is now sold in 24 countries including by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind here in Canada.
But Liu isn’t stopping there. He notes that the incidence of vision loss is expected to increase as the population ages. To wit, approximately one in three people develop some form of vision-reducing eye disease by the age of 65 – the most common of which are age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy. “The core issue is those individuals with vision impairment, where it comes to navigation, need a lot more accuracy,” he points out. So iMerciv, the assistive tech company he co-founded, is developing a system that can provide GPS co-ordinates down to the centimetre. “Because it doesn’t matter how much information you provide, if the bus stop is actually across the road – it’s not helpful.” www.imerciv.com —Tara Losinski
BuzzClip’s mesh sensor sits in a circular ring roughly the diameter of a toonie.