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Sunu Band - Ultrasonic wearable to heighten perception
United States
Accessible Product

Global Elevate Awards Runner-up 2016

Category: Assistive Technology,

Nomination Details

Organization name: Sunu Inc.

Launched Date: 2015-07-23

Who has created it: Cuauhtli Padilla

Problem statement and how the Accessible Innovation solves the problem.

Independent mobility for 286 million visually impaired worldwide is stressful, frustrating and dangerous, leading to a lack of independence and social inclusion, along with frequent accidents – injuries to the body and head, which even the white cane cannot prevent. Mobility aids remain underutilized by those living with other visual impairments such as low vision (LV) and vision loss (VL) (due to cataracts, macular degeneration, diabetes and glaucoma). Most aids are expensive, embarrassing to use, have poor usability and are not intuitive.

Visual impairment at any level can cause difficulties with everyday activities such as driving, reading, socializing and walking. With the Sunu Band’s proximity sensors and haptic feedback (vibrations), the visually impaired can better sense objects in their path and navigate successfully.

Sunu Band is a wearable device that combines proximity sensing along with haptic feedback. The sonar wristband detects the proximity of objects or obstacles within the user’s path at a range of 13 feet. The vibrations intensify as the user approaches an object. Sunu Band’s key differentiators are:

  • Inclusive design – Wearable, discrete and lightweight.
  • Augmentative experience – adjustable detection range and feedback is non-obtrusive to the senses and work alongside other mobility aids.
  • Intuitive - Easy to learn within minutes.
  • Sunu Tag - Find personal articles with this tiny tracker. Vibrations on the band or the smartphone indicate the Tag’s proximity while an alarm on the Tag helps you to find it quickly.
  • Vibration Clock - Keep track of time with Sunu's haptic clock. Vibrations discreetly tell you the time with a simple abacus like system.
  • Gesture Control - Allows to quickly manipulate all the band functions (Change of modes or turn it on/off) with one hand using simple hand gestures.
  • Wireless Charging- Remove the pain of wires and connections by simply locating the Band or the Tag over the Wireless Charger Base.

Sunu Band is located in the wrist so it can imitate the natural scanning movement from the cane and at the same time cover all areas, letting the user know in what direction is the obstacle or where to navigate. With a smartphone the user can use the tags as beacons that can be attached to any place and he will be able to find the entrance to a convenient store or any other place that has also a Sunu tag. Sunu tag can hold information like the place, the number of the bus that is arriving, the name of a sculpture, and many other in order to make a better navigation experience for the users.

Sunu Band has an 8-hour battery life and be recharged wirelessly (via inductive charging). A variety of object (or obstacles) can be detected, including tree branches, signposts, ‘dangling’ wires, etc. The fast sampling rate of 30 fps (frames per second), allows Sunu Band to detect things that are moving towards (or away) the user’s path, such as other pedestrians.

Tell us who is the target audience and how the accessible innovation will benefit them. Please specify the different target audiences groups and provide numbers and statistics of your current clients as well as what is the potential number of people that the innovation can impact and empower:

There are approximately 6.7 million people in the US who are totally blind and low vision (B/LV). Additionally, there are close to 20 million Americans affected by vision loss, especially among the elderly population who are at risk for developing Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), cataracts and glaucoma. Also, 7.6 million diabetics in the US are affected by vision loss due to Diabetic Retinopathy. Because we employ inclusive design, we envision Sunu Band and our other products, as ubiquitous technologies with the potential of serving these various segments.

The wearable devices market in the US is expanding and projected to worth $7 billion by 2016. People with visual impairments are relying more on mobile and wearable gadgets. We are beginning to see emerging applications of wearable devices as Assistive Technologies – a market worth $39 billion in the US. The independent living aids sector is projected to be at $5 billion by 2016. There are approximately 6.7 million people in the US who are totally blind and low vision (B/LV).

Additionally, there are close to 20 million Americans affected by vision loss, especially among the elderly population who are at risk for developing Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), cataracts and glaucoma. Also, 7.6 million diabetics in the US are affected by vision loss due to Diabetic Retinopathy. Because we employ inclusive design, we envision Sunu Band and our other products, as ubiquitous technologies with the potential of serving these various segments.

How is the accessible innovative solution different from current practices or ways of solving the problem?

Sunu band is the first smart band using ultrasonic technology to sense the user’s surroundings and deliver haptic feedback on his wrist to indicate proximity. Sunu band can also give you the time with its discrete vibrational watch feature and can help you find your missing objects with the Sunu Tag; a tiny beacon like device that can be clipped to any personal object (Sunu Tag can also be tracked from your smartphone in case you don’t have the band). Sunu holds intellectual property as part of its competitive advantage.

The following patent is approved: Utility Patent - MX/U/2011/000158 ‘Wristband for proximity detection and localization of objects for the visually impaired.’ Describes the device as a wristband with its mechanical and electronic components together used in the activities to detect and range finding objects and obstacles with a user’s path, along with the simultaneous detection of tagged articles. The following is included:

  • Integrated electronic components.
  • Use of buttons as interface control
  • Communication with Sunu Tag and audio earpiece via infrared (Ied).
  • Adjustable positioning of the ultrasound transducer.
  • Vibrating motor for transducing the signal acquired via the ultrasound sensor
  • Wireless communication to an earpiece for transducing the signal acquired via the ultrasound sensor.
  • Includes rechargeable battery.

Patent Filed via PCT - July 2015 ‘Method to Avoid Interferences’ describes how Sunu Band eliminates multiple interferences when more than one Sunu Band are within range. We establish the following claims:

  • Specific Transducer position – the sensor position on the wristband conforms to the human body’s natural wrist position. This sensor positioning with Sunu Band allows for the most effective use of the device via the user’s wrist, i.e. aiming and scanning with the sensor.
  • Method for signal amplification – we include variable gain within our amplifier to avoid saturation effect due to proximity.
  • Position-dependent Feedback – describes the haptic feedback mechanism employed as the ultrasound sensor approaches an object. The feedback takes into account the range and sensitivity set by the user. The feedback is transduced via pulsating vibrations to the wrist. When the sensor is within range, the feedback triggers the vibrating pulses, which become more frequent as the user approach the object.

How is the accessible innovative solution new, different or unique in terms of the technology or implementation?

Sunu band is optimized with two different operation modes, for indoor and outdoor scenarios. The Indoor mode has a shorter range (8 feet) and is enhanced to detect openings and thresholds, like aisles in a supermarket, exits in a building, spaces between people and so on. The outdoor mode has a longer range (13 feet) and covers a wider area allowing to detect obstacles above the knees up to head level, like trash cans, phone box, hanging tree branches, etc.

Its range changes in a smart way depending on the position of the user wrist, it calculates the inclination of the sensor and the way where it is pointing, so if it is pointing to head level obstacles it will only vibrate if the obstacle is a danger to the user, if it is too high it will not alert the user, also the sensitivity of the sensor changes depending in the position of the hand and walking speed of the user in order to optimize object detection and feedback. It will automatically shut down if the user is in rest sitting position or holding a something like a glass of water or typing on the pc. It also connects with a smartphone to increase its functionality like having always the right hour, even if you change time zones.

Thanks to its ergonomic design, it can be pointed with minimal movements from your hand, enabling the user to feel their surroundings in a very discreet and quick manner. Sunu Band doesn’t interfere with the other senses because it provides vibration feedback, and it's non-obtrusive as the user still maintain free use of its hand. It can be manipulated with gestures or buttons depending on the situation for its comfort. The vibration watch is discrete and as fast as a talking watch or the action of checking the time with a smartphone.

Sunu Band is truly augmentative as it can be used alongside other mobility aids, like the white cane or with a guide dog. Its sonar transducer emits at a frequency that is safe around dogs and other pets. Besides, getting started is very easy, thanks to our skills-based guides, developed in partnership with Orientation and Mobility specialists.

Throughout our product validation and customer discovery process, we’ve identified three (3) value propositions for Sunu Band as a wearable mobility aid for the blind consumer. We continue to learn how the product is useful for other consumer segments, i.e. low vision and people experiencing vision loss. Sunu Band’s value propositions are:

  • Avoid coming into contact with a variety of objects, obstacles and people.
  • Removes the stress of trailing or following within a queue.
  • Easily find thresholds and open doors even within a loud environment.

How do you get the innovative solution to reach the target audience? Please elaborate on the your go to market strategy and which geographies do you currently work in and what are your future plans for marketing your innovation.

Sunu Band will be offered at a retail price of $249.00 USD. Sunu is partnered with Sinec Technologies for production and manufacturing, which is carried out in Guadalajara, Mexico. We have a laboratory and office onsite, where we carry out some of the R&D and product development alongside validating the manufacturing process. Sinec is willing to finance the production of the first 2000 Sunu Band Units. The manufacturing and product development in Mexico helps allows Sunu access talent and produce small batch run (50 units) at a low cost. The user testing and product validation is carried out in partnership with the various organizations. We are then able to iterate within our product development cycle.

Sunu is partnering with Perkins for distribution within the US and some international markets like the United Kingdom and Australia. Perkins is an industry leader within the B/LV community. A distribution partnership with Perkins allows us to readily address a ‘beachhead’ market within the blind/low vision (B/LV) segment. Sunu aims to develop these key distribution channels:

  • Distributor / Reseller – AT distributors like Perkins with direct sales to institutions.
  • Online storefront – direct sales to consumers via web e-commerce.
  • Government Institution – Rehabilitation centers like the Mass Commission for the Blind, school districts and the veteran affairs (VA) can help subsidize the product costs for consumers.
  • Medical Insurance – Represents the biggest target for growth.

Based on the statistics summarized in our market research, a partnership with Perkins may allow Sunu to readily address circa 1.5 million adult blind consumers (age 25-45 years old), accounting for a 60% unemployment rate within the US adult blind population. Addressing this segment first allows Sunu to further iterate its core technology within years 1 and 2. As our device and technology platform matures, by year-3 we intend to penetrate the larger vision-loss (VL) segment addressing 20 million individuals living with other visual impairments in the Us and the world.

What is the potential impact of the innovative solution on the lives of the target audience? Please elaborate by providing statistics of the current impact and the potential impact.

Our team has been working alongside the customer we intend to serve since the onset of Sunu. The Sunu Band project began as part of a community service project at a school for blind children in Guadalajara, Mexico. Since 2013, our team has partnered with various institutions, organizations, experts and individuals in helping Sunu validate our core technology. All pilot test results including raw data, interviews, and surveys are attached in a separate document. The following summarizes our validation partnerships:

  1. Helen Keller Mixed School for the Development of the Blind (Guadalajara, Mexico) – Sunu carried out its early prototype testing with 30-50 children (between the ages of 6-12 years old). The children we asked to solve a maze and an obstacle course.
  2. Perkins School for the Blind (Watertown, MA, December 2014 - January 2015) – A user experience trial with 10 blind participants, including adults 21-60 years old and students 8-16 years old. The pilot consisted of one (1)-hour tests focused on specific mobility scenarios.
  3. National Federation of the Blind (Baltimore, MD, March 2015) – A 15-day user testing where 5 Assistive Technology specialists used Sunu Band in a variety of daily living scenarios.
  4. Individual User Tests (March 2015- present) – In-home 1-month tests aimed at learning about use-cases where Sunu Band is most helpful for the blind user. We measure how easy/intuitive Sunu Band is to use and how fast individuals become proficient at navigating with the device. In the month of July, we launched our super user program for gaining feedback from users who are proficient at using Sunu Band.
  5. Orientation & Mobility (O&M) Trainers (July 2015 – Present) – We’re working with various O&M trainers from institutions like Perkins, The Mass Commission for the Blind (MCB), World Access for the Blind in evaluating Sunu Band use cases and training/learning materials.

We currently have two super users (Daniel Kish & Steve Wonder) and will be including more during the month of January. Sunu Band is recommended for children above the age of six (6), teens and adults. Sunu Band can help people who are: totally blind, have low vision or are partially sighted and experiencing vision loss, due to Macular Degeneration (AMD), Glaucoma, Cataracts & Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP).

In Sunu we have the mission to empower independence - to deliver Sunu Band to people living with impaired sight, whether they can afford it, need a little extra help or are living with limited resources. We're partnering with rural schools for blind children and other institutions serving the visually impaired in the developing world .

Stories of how the Innovation has touched lives.

These are some testimonials from people that used Sunu Band:

“A device like SUNU could take some of the stress out of traveling with a dog or cane… especially if it reliably detects object at head level, since a cane does not. Even a dog is not accustomed to concerning itself with objects above shoulder-level.” – Jerry Berrier, Manager, National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program

“Before using SUNU, I was skeptical. I have tried other similar devices in the past without much benefit. After using it, I was pleasantly surprised. I was able to avoid overhead objects quite easily and was also able to find doorways very easily.”– Thomas Cumings, Adaptive Technology Trainer

“My thought regarding the sensation related to using SUNU was that of intrigue, (since) I have never attempted to navigate using a sensor. This provided a unique approach to exploring the world.” – Jeremias Feliz, Assistive Technology Trainer

“SUNU could be a game-changer when maneuvering in an unfamiliar building. It would allow a cane user to travel more gracefully – knowing where doorways are without hitting or knowing where a wall is. Using SUNU is unobtrusive while providing so much feedback about the environment around you.” – Milissa Garside, Adaptive Technology Trainer

"I think this has the potential to be the Fit Bit for the Blind, this could be as valuable to me as my iphone is" - Howard Sumner

"I thought it was intresting that it was helping me realize who was infront of me or what was in front of me and helped me determine how fast I could move. The more you use it, the more you are going to learn what the band is telling you" - Carmen Camacho

Links to a few videos about the innovation: