Introduction: Bats Have Feelings Too

Picture of Bats Have Feelings Too

Sonar garment to assist the visually impaired with navigating the built environment. Made from Lilypad main board, LV-MaxSonar ultrasonic range finder and a LilyPad vibeboard. The range finder can be set to locate a solid object X distance in front of the user and turn the vibeboard on alerting the user to stop before walking into a solid object.

This project was inspired by attending the unveiling of the award winning facilities for Anchor Center for Blind Children designed by star architect Maria Cole. During my visit one of the former students came up to speak with me because she could 'see' what I was wearing (a confetti fabric coat) and she too wanted to design clothes. Just goes to show ya never know where the next project is coming from!

Want more eTextile How-To DIY eTextile videos, tutorials and projects?
Then visit The eTextile Lounge!

Eric from Talk2MyShirt wrote a fatabulous review of this project! Thanks!!
See it here:

Step 1: Select a Garment

Picture of Select a Garment

For the garment you can use something you have, go buy something or even DIY!

I went to a local thrift and found a cute woman's light weight jacket.
I made sure the garment had some specific design elements to support my over all design concept, allowed me to 'hide' the electronics and required as little sewing as possible.

These design elements are:
Placket in between the shoulders
Front facing all the way around the coat opening that was held in place with tailor tacks.
Back facing also held in place with tailor tacks.

Step 2: Gather Your Parts

Picture of Gather Your Parts

Stuff I had stuffed in my supply drawer:
Conductive thread
Thread to match your project
USB cord
USB link for the Lilypad
Tailors chalk
Alligator clips
Fray check
Magic marker
Paperbacked Iron-on Adhesive

Stuff I had to purchase:
LilyPad Arduino Main Board

LilyPad Power Supply

LilyPad Vibe Board

Maxbotix LV-EZ4

You can find parts elsewhere, or even DIY.
I like to support my local shop, plus Nate is super nice, hires a fantastic staff of sparkies and he goes to Burning Man

Step 3: Schematic Planning

Picture of Schematic Planning

Where will the guts be placed?
What do Bats look like?
How will all of the hardware get connected?
Ultimately, what is the easiest way to execute this project and is that the best method?

I use pins, tailor's chalk and paper to plan out the circuitry and aesthetics of the garment.
Take your time with this step.
Try the garment on.
Experiment some more.
Step away.
Mark your sewing lines with tailors chalk, tape your computer parts in place
think some more.

Some tips:
The power supply is heavy and critical to the longevity of your project. Place it somewhere easily accessible, durable and stable. The more movement this piece has the more likely the project will develop a short circuit.

The power supply and the main board want to be near each other. A robust circuit will be a short distance. A short distance decreases the possibility of a short circuit. Please remember BOTH sides of the fabric can be used!! Think in all dimensions for a groovalicious result.

Stretchy fabrics lead to stretchy traces which generally result in short circuits.

Step 4: The Bats Have Landed! (non-essential, But Groovy)

Picture of The Bats Have Landed! (non-essential, But Groovy)
Once I made a decision on what Bats look like I was ready to land the Bats on the jacket.*

This is the series of steps I took :
Make Bat templates.
Fuse the iron-on adhesive on your fashion fabric.
Trace your Bats on to the paper of the iron-on adhesive.
Cut the Bats out.
Locate Bats on garment and pin in place.
Try the garment on and make necessary adjustments.
Stop and think........after the next step it's tricky to change the design.
Put garment on ironing board.
Preheat iron.
Peel off the paper backing on a Bat.
Position Bat on the garment.
Pin the Bat in place.
To protect your fashion fabric place a piece of paper over your Bat.
Fuse the Bat in place by ironing over the paper.
Check to be sure the Bat is completely attached to the garment.
Viola! Bats Bats everywhere!

  • Please Note: The Bats serve no technical purpose for this project, they're just groovalicious. You can make any shape. design or nothing at all.

Step 5: Sew in Power Supply and Main Board ..... and Test Them!

Picture of Sew in Power Supply and Main Board ..... and Test Them!

Fast and Easy..

Clip the metal extensions on the back of the power supply.
Tailor tack the power supply in place - (tailor tacking is just small stitches with regular thread. think of it as a fabric paperclip).

With conductive thread sew the + petal of the power supply down to your garment.
Make several passes thru the + hole until you can no longer fit the needle thru.

Sew the + trace to the + petal on the Lilypad.

Again pass the needle thru the + petal on the Lilypad until you can no longer fir the needle thru.

Then sew back along your trace towards the power supply.
This will give you a more robust connection as well as allow you to knot your thread a place where it will be less likely to short circuit.

Knot your thread.

Place a drop of fabric glue on the knot.

Take a break!

Once the glue is dry then clip the thread tail.

Repeat for the - connections.

Using a multimeter, test the traces for short circuits.

I would suggest gluing velcro to your power supply and to the fabric. With this method the power supply is still removable, but held tightly in place. Place the pricky side of velcro on the power supply and the soft side of the velcro on the garment. This way if you wear the garment without the battery pack you wont stick to anything.

Do everything you can to reduce the possibility of a short circuit.
Use short neat stitches.
Place fabric glue on the final stitches to hold them in place.
And plan ahead...having to rip out your traces is depressing, but not deadly.

Right here on 'ibles there are lots of examples and directions on sewing the power supply and Lilypad. Just do a search to learn more more more.

Step 6: Sew in the Buzzer and Test It

Picture of Sew in the Buzzer and Test It

The final location of the vibe board ended up on the outside of the collar.
Sew - on the vibe board to the - on the main board.
Sew + on the vibe board to the #13 digital pin on the main board.

Using a multimeter test for a short in your traces.

Step 7: Make Three Tubes of Conductiveness (non-essential, But an Option)

Picture of Make Three Tubes of Conductiveness (non-essential, But an Option)

Depending upon your design scheme you may want to make the Tubes of Conductiveness (TofC) or you may want to directly sew the conductive thread to your garment.

This step is a design choice.
If you want to skip it please go on to the next step.......

Make three Tubes of Conductiveness

By using the TofC you don't have to sew all the way from the Maxbotix which will be located on the front of the jacket all the way around to the main board. The TofC are draped in the interstitial space between the facing and the fashion fabric and then tailor tacked in place.


The TofC help prevent short circuits. :)

But if you want to sew or match a certain design look, please go ahead and skip this step.

Step 8: Sew in Sonar Range Finder

Picture of Sew in Sonar Range Finder

Attach the Maxbotix range finder to the coat using project thread to the attachment holes.

Sew the + on the range finder to +5V on main board
Sew the GND on Maxbotix to the - on main board
Sew the AN on Maxbotix to analog pin 0 on the main board

Step 9: Load Software to Lilypad

Picture of Load Software to Lilypad

Using your USB cable and USB link attach the Bats LilyPad to your computer.
Using Arduino software write the program so the Maxbotix will drive the vibe board.

I used the following program:

//Bats Have Feelings Too
//Wearable computer system to assist the visually handicapped
//Lynne Bruning November 2008


//change units to match your specific user and environment

void setup()
pinMode(RANGE_FINDER_INPUT_PIN,INPUT); //sets the range finder analog pin as input
pinMode(BUZZER_OUTPUT_PIN, OUTPUT); // sets the buzzer digital pin as output
digitalWrite(RANGE_FINDER_INPUT_PIN, LOW); // turns the buzzer off
digitalWrite(RANGE_FINDER_INPUT_PIN, HIGH); // turns the buzzer on

void loop()
int val = analogRead(RANGE_FINDER_INPUT_PIN);
Serial.println(val); // units
if (val >= 0 & val <= NUMBER_OF_UNITS_TO_SENSOR)
digitalWrite( BUZZER_OUTPUT_PIN, HIGH); // turns the buzzer on
digitalWrite( BUZZER_OUTPUT_PIN, LOW); // turns the buzzer off

Step 10: Fly Like a Bat

Picture of Fly Like a Bat

In the program you can change the ranger finder distance.
In the set up change the
equal to what is appropriate for your user and their environment.

Now make it your own...
add more sensors
change the bats
put it in a hat.

Just imagine the possibilities.............


thomasgamer4000 (author)2017-10-02

please rename it to "how to make a public service announcement about bats" as it tells the viewer about the instrutibles more.

Dusk Shadows (author)2012-06-17

THANKS YOU! do u know how many people try to shoot down us vampires when we are in bat form? LOTS!!!!

More power to the Bat People!
Wishing you great night bytes.

thank you i am killing a vampire slayer as we speak thanks!

thank you i am killing a vampire slayer as we speak thanks!

propellerheadgeek (author)2011-08-22

Very cool concept - future generations of these will be everywhere.

Thanks for the vote of confidence!  Indeed this project was a great starting point and has provided a stepping stone for groups such as Point Locus from Vancouver. Please check out their navigational coat as shown at Maker Faire SF May 2011.

CluainnFhada (author)2011-01-19

I think these garments would make a huge difference to the visually impaired, espeacially in Ireland where funding for guide dogs and the NCBI is so low.

If I could I would make a gazillion of these. But I ain't that amazing which making yet, so I think I'll just stick to fund raising...

thanks for your vote of confidence!
One day garments like these will be common place. One day........

MzDooom (author)2010-12-09

WOW!! are you still working on this? My son could really use something with sonar to help him get around.

nomooremr.niceguy (author)2009-07-09

My grand father has a disease that has taken away all but a pin head of his vision. So needless to say I was excited about this project. After reading the instructions and all the comments, I realized that the jacket would eventually have to be washed. I wasn't sure how the circuitry would hold up to the washing.Someone mentioned shoes and gloves. My grand father also had a disease that has left his hands and feet numb, so that he cannot feel much out of his hands or feet, so the option of placing them there was removed, because the vibrating would go unnoticed. And as he grows older, his hearing is getting worse, so auditory cues are also out. Pants have the same drawback as shirts or jackets. Someone else mentioned a hat. I can't see how to get the battery pack or the lilly pad circuit board into a baseball cap and still have it fit on the head comfortably and look semi-normal (correct me if I'm wrong, but I think it would look out of the ordinary if I saw someone with silver lines and a battery pack mounted on the outside of their hat). So I was wondering if it would work if you made some "Not So Blind Glasses". And would it work better with the sonar that is presently being used? or could you do a better job with infra red range finders? I'm not trying to tear the project apart. It is a wonderful idea, and I couldn't do it better myself. I'm not trying to discredit it in any way. It's just that I'm in a unique situation, so I have to mold the project to fit my situation (I promise I would mold my situation to fit the project if I could). So thank you for the idea. It's wonderful. I apologize if it seemed as though I was trying to pick it apart. I'm just trying to find a solution to fit my desires. I'm also not trying to sound like a sob story. My grand father can get around well enough in familiar areas. Since he has reached this point in his disability he has built an entire barn that has withstood 3 hurricanes (Rita was the first. It was the one right after Katrina). So While the predicament isn't the best, I'm sure we could get along without this. I just think it would be a nice thing to have. I'll see what I can do to get around the road blocks. I was just wondering if there was anyone who might be able to help. Thank you again for the idea. It's wonderful and I love it. Have a great day. Sinisterly, The Not So Nice Guy

If you wanted to still use the jacket idea, would it be possible to make all of the non-washable parts removable? Like with velcro or snaps? I may be missing the point, but that seems feasible to me.

No. You got it. That's a great idea. Thank you. I'll try that.

Your welcome. I'm glad to be helpful.

tokymaru (author)skittlespider2010-10-12

those shirts with the electroluminescent panels (wifi detectors and what not) use velcro for their electronics. plus i see old guy all the time with hats like this that i would think would have plenty of space.

Lynne Bruning (author)tokymaru2010-10-12

Conductive Hook and Loop Tape can be purchased thru HookandLoop

Good luck with your project!

vhold (author)2009-02-08

I'm not capable of building it, but I had the same idea out of the blue yesterday, and found this already existed. My questions are.. Does it handle interference from other units? If two, five, or twenty people were wearing it, can it work? Are there other things that can provide interference? I also saw that, according to their FAQ, the MatBotix range finders are not authorized for for life support systems, does this qualify as one, and are there potential legal issues if you did give it to a blind person to use?

its a lion (author)vhold2009-04-06

I think that the legal issues involved would be MatBotix would not be liable for anything that happens to the person.

rpcook (author)2008-11-21

Keep up the good work!!!! Have a button to calibrate the distance to the ground so different wearer can detect a step or hole with better precision. When the distance is more than the calibration (+ a little) then buzz?

Lynne Bruning (author)rpcook2008-11-22

Thanks for the encouragement and idea! I suspect this will work best if the range finder is placed in a shoe. Jackets have so many variables - they shift around so much depending upon if they are buttoned or not, and then if the woman is wearing high heels the jacket height shifts significantly. I think the shoe is the next experiment.

rpcook (author)Lynne Bruning2008-11-23

I see what you mean about the jacket issues. Hmmm. Pant cuffs would be a problem for the shoe mount. Plus, how geeky would it look in high heels to have a sonar unit on your ankle? :) Recalibration for different shoe heights would not be a problem. If you keep a running average of the distance to the ground then it can auto calibrate. Each measurement that is more than a threshold could indicate a step up or down. Still have that where-to-mount it problem. :(

silentdmx (author)rpcook2009-04-03

how about a belt buckle?? that would work right unless they are a bit fat and it hangs over the belt of course

rocketguy (author)Lynne Bruning2009-01-27

Just a possible resource: It's an easily moldable and reusable non-toxic plastic that hardens to a pretty stiff shape, depending on thickness. Great for prototyping, and might integrate well with your system to hold the sensors in a particular direction. I'm thinking possibly contoured "ribs" to give the jacket a structure/stability for the sensor. Shaped plates might work too, but might be too stiff or awkward. Or use it on a shoe, but you're gonna see more radical pitch changes than on the jacket. Just have to try and see if that's a factor in false positives. In any case, it's fairly cheap, I use it for all sorts of things. This is great stuff, I'm now putting a similar build on my todo list!

Newblit (author)2008-11-20

It seems like it's a great thing to do but I am confused, what exactly is this supposed to do. Sure, I know it's to help blind people but how does it help them I don't understand that part I read your instructable thoroughly and found no information on here that tells exactly what it does to help these people.

Lynne Bruning (author)Newblit2008-11-20

Thanks! Was too close to notice what was missing. I added text to the intro. Sonar garment to assist the visually impaired navigate the built environment. The range finder can be set to locate a solid object X distance in front of the user and turn the vibeboard on before the user walks into the wall. Better?

Newblit (author)Lynne Bruning2008-11-20

Much better I like the idea at first I thought it had to do with sound and how far something away something is from them. I only see one flaw in this or possible flaw. What happens wheen it's a sheet of glass would they be able to see it? I just thought of a very cool idea to help blind people. think of a device that attaches to your arm and uses a 3d scanner to scan the path in front of you. The scanner then uses the scan to push your skin in the shape of the area in front of you. For instance if you are walking down the sidewalk and there is a curb you must step down from the device would see this calculate the depth of the curb from the hypotenuse angle of the triangle from the curb ledge height and the distance from the top of the curb to the place where the scan hit the street. It would then press down on your skin showing you that theere is a step down almost like a map that moves and forms to your body if this is still vague tel lme please.

Lynne Bruning (author)Newblit2008-11-20

Glass is a solid object so the sonar should work. (gets up from desk and walks towards a VERY large sliding glass door) Yep, the buzzer went off before I walked into the glass. :) WOW! now that's an idea worth investigating. It addresses a flaw with my design in that you accomadate what is not there, the void, the step down. The range finder doesn't see it. Yes, we will both have to keep thinking.

Newblit (author)Lynne Bruning2008-11-20

OOooo didn't realize it was real sonar. YOu are going to have so many environmentalists all over you because of tthe supposed harm it causes animals lol. But yea I'll think of something although it would be so complicated.

rocketguy (author)Newblit2009-01-27

These are really small, I don't think there's much impact. The sonar issues with the navy killing whales and such are using systems that are vastly powerful with ranges that are measured in thousands of miles, under water.

Logic (author)Lynne Bruning2008-11-20

If you angle a rangefinder towards the ground, it would be active while the wearer was standing on a level surface. Set the rangefinder to turn off when the distance is exceeded...ground is no longer being detected in front of the wearer. Then invert the signal so the buzzer activates on this condition.

benjamander (author)Logic2008-11-20

sonar works by the sound reflecting back to the wearer. think about what would happen if the sound came out of the sonar device, then hit the floor. It would bounce back up, but it would reflect away from the wearer and just keep going.

Logic (author)benjamander2008-11-20

Ben, the ranger should still detect the surface unless it's extremely hard and shiny, especially at the small distance we're discussing. I was envisioning a relatively steep angle, say 60 or 70 degrees negative, covering the area only a couple feet in front of the wearer. Lynne can test the angle question by approaching a flat wall at an angle with her existing setup.

Lynne Bruning (author)Logic2008-11-22

I did some simple tests just walking about with the range finder at a 70 degreeish angle. Logic pulls thru, it works! Thanks for the suggestions!

Lynne Bruning (author)Logic2008-11-20


bananafred (author)2008-11-27

How about there is a beep every few seconds, and the faster it beeps, the closer you are to something, or there could be a constant tone into an earbud and the lower the tone the closer you are.

rocketguy (author)bananafred2009-01-27

That has been tried (i.e. "radar cane") and doesn't work for the blind. Hearing is so important to situational awareness, that it's a step backwards to use auditory cues. The key is to make it tactile, via vibromotors or other mechanisms in order to additively supplement the total sensory input rather than sacrificing it. I do think that a plastic plate or stabilizer might help keep the sensors oriented though, consistency is a good thing. I'm also wondering if a hand held or glove unit might work too. Huge potential. Might have to build my own now...

mynameisjonas (author)2008-12-31

absolutely brilliant! five stars (author)2008-12-22

Hello, this the electrical engineer you spoke with at ATP today. I just read through the discussion of detecting voids as well as obstacles in the comments. I actually used a cheap ultrasonic rangefinder on my eye-controlled wheelchair, in order to detect obstacles and drop-offs while backing up. The sensor was angled downward, and I set two thresholds (far and near). If the value returned by the sensor was outside of the acceptable range, it stopped the wheelchair. So, if there was an obstacle too close, the return time of the signal would be too short. If the floor was farther away than it should be, the return time would be too long. It worked fairly well. The two issues are: 1) Different types of sonar or IR sensors work better for detecting different materials, and 2) As you previously mentioned, in the form of a jacket, the angle and distance to the ground may change a bit much for this to work well. My contact info is on the ATP site if you want more info or to discuss ideas. -Gavin

slydark (author)2008-11-29

this is absolutely brilliant, as the son of an occupational and physical therapist, Im always thrilled to see people doing anything to help the disabled.

Ph3nomin0n (author)2008-11-22

Bat#930? Im kinda lost where do I have to look for that? lol sorry kinda new.

gmoon (author)2008-11-20

Really cool idea! Has the garment been used yet by a visually-impaired person?

Lynne Bruning (author)gmoon2008-11-22

I've been testing it, honestly I am blind as bat without my contacts! When I get back to Denver I'll have the kids check it out. No doubt many tweaks and improvements to be made, but I feel the concept is intact.

Live for Improvement (author)2008-11-21

That’s really neat, you should incorporate ear plugs that hum and change pitch as you get closer to objects. That way you can gauge how far something is almost like a metal detector. -Dan Malone-

Ph3nomin0n (author)2008-11-20

This is really cool! Though I dont think Ill do the whole programming hardware thing, I just love the way the bat looks! I might just put it on the back of my red shirt lol. Do you think you could send me the bat template? thats assuming you have it saved or someting, if not thats ok. Thanks!

JakeTobak (author)2008-11-20

This is really awesome, you should get an award or something.

kelseymh (author)2008-11-20

Interesting concept, and lovely implementation. I've added it to the Assistive Technology Group.

About This Instructable




More by Lynne Bruning:Halloween GlowHearts A'Glow!Hello Kitty!  Its Valentine's Day!
Add instructable to: