A Breakthrough Technology for the Visually Impaired



José Danilo Diógenes, a 21-year-old computer engineering graduate of Universidade Potiguar in Brazil, has been fielding many versions of the same questions since he developed his SADDV (System of Displacement Aid for the Visually Impaired) “assistive technology” last December. But when he answers them, his responses are often unexpected.

The questions he receives, such as how he came up with the idea for this technology, are often met with a chuckle from him, and then his quiet and considered response.

“There is nothing more noble than sharing what you’ve learned.”

“People always ask if I have a blind or visually impaired relative,” Danilo said. “And the answer is no. I just observed what was going on around me and decided to develop something that would help with that problem.” The problem he observed was how hard it is for those with vision impairments “to live their own lives,” and he started to think about new ways to address this.

This problem-solving mindset was spurred on by professors who supported the young student throughout the process, which eventually evolved into his final project before receiving his engineering degree. The technology involves a walking stick that is equipped with three sensors to detect objects above, below and at midheight. It then employs vibrations and audio feedback to alert the user to any physical barriers. SADDV is in the prototype and testing stages now, but Danilo says that users already have told him that they feel “much more comfortable and independent.”

Another question people often ask Danilo is what he plans to do with the technology—whether he will sell it, or market it in some other way—and his answer, again, is often unexpected.

“I am more interested in making a useful technology rather than one that is chic or expensive,” Danilo said. He explained that he built the system using an “open access platform” and that there are similar products on the market, although none as complete as his. But his central wish is that this technology will be available to anyone who needs it. For this reason, once testing is done, the specifications of the project will be available online for those who want to build their own model, using materials available to them.

In the end, this upside-down business model may be unexpected, but it reflects the theme woven throughout Danilo’s story, that of giving back. This is also reflected in his future plans, which he hopes will include getting a master’s degree and becoming a teacher. He is extremely grateful for all of the help and encouragement he has received from his own teachers, and, in his words, “There is nothing more noble than sharing what you’ve learned.”