Climbing to New Heights: A Novel Device for Elevation Detection and Navigation for the Blind


STEM 2 is a 3 month-group project taught by Dr. Crowthers. Students form their own small “companies,” emulating entrepreneurship. I was the Chief Information Officer (CIO) of my group, which means I made sure documents are formatted correctly and ready to be sent to the public. This did not exclude me from other tasks such as helping build the prototype or learning some CAD.

The Problem

The problem our group decided to tackle was inconsistent elevation, more specifically, staircase detection. People who suffer from Visual Impairments tend to struggle with navigation, especially in areas of changing elevation.

Our Design Approach


The approach our group chose to solve the problem was to utilize machine learning to create a device to detect staircases. We used a Raspberry Pi Camera Module and a Raspberry Pi Model 3B+ to detect the staircases themselves. For the Machine Learning, we used a custom trained YOLO v5 object detection algorithm, which used a database of over 1000 images to train and has an accuracy of 93.05% in detecting stairs.

To house the machine learning model, our group used a design similar to the Iron Man Arc Reactor from Marvel movies, as shown in the CAD model on the left. The Raspberry Pi, along with the battery module, would go in the bottom part of the module, and the camera would be tilted at an angle in the top part of the module.

Current Prototype

The MARK II Prototype

The final design we created was the MARK II, which consists of 3D printed parts along with a lanyard. This prototype assembles the Raspberry Pi, the camera module, and a Lithium-Ion Battery to power the system.

This prototype achieves discreteness, with the design seeming like a decoration on the user rather than a device to assist them. The MARK II is also very portable, with the lanyard making it easy for the user to take off and put on. Finally, this device receives high accuracy in detecting stairs, as mentioned before.

TRR/ADR Presentation

Below is my group's Test Readiness Review / Acceptance and Delivery Review (TRR/ADR) slides, in PDF form. They can also be accessed here.