Inspired by bats, this teen's invention is changing how blind people experience the world.

It may be a joystick, but this device is no game.

When he was 12 years old, Alex Deans watched a woman with a visual impairment struggle to cross a busy street.

Image via iStock.


After a short conversation with her, Alex decided to use his love of science to improve the way people with visual impairments get around in their communities.

He started from scratch, teaching himself how to program and connecting with coders and inventors from around the world in online chat rooms. He thought outside the box when he began to build his new device and found inspiration in nature for tackling the woman's problem in a new way.

It took over five years for Alex to complete his device, which he calls an iAid.

He spent three years working on the prototype and then another three years refining it.

But, boom! He made it happen.

Like the echolocation system bats use, the iAid maps environments using sound waves.

Basically, the iAid is a belt with four sensors, attached to a small joystick.

When used inside , sound waves bounce off objects. The sensors communicate to a joystick, which pivots in the direction the user should go, allowing the person to navigate around obstacles without using a cane.

Images by Canada AM.

When used outside , the system uses GPS, Bluetooth, Google Maps, and a cloud service to send information to the user's smartphone, proving once again there really is an app for everything.

The iAid has received lots of positive feedback from testers at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.

"One of the major things they said was the the device actually improved their confidence in navigation," Alex said in an interview with "Canada AM."

Alex was even named one of Canada's Future Leaders and recently took home the prestigious Weston Youth Innovation Award.

He hopes to use his new-found fame (and $2,000 in prize money) to continue improving the iAid. It's his goal to have the device on the market in two years.

Not bad for someone who's still in Grade 12.

Check out the iAid in action in this interview Alex did with Canada AM.

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