Bats Have Feelings Too




Introduction: 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!

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

Step 1: 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

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

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)

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!

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

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)

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

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

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

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.............

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    5 years ago

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

    Dusk Shadows
    Dusk Shadows

    10 years ago on Introduction

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

    Lynne Bruning
    Lynne Bruning

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

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

    Dusk Shadows
    Dusk Shadows

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

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

    Dusk Shadows
    Dusk Shadows

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

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

    Lynne Bruning
    Lynne Bruning

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    12 years ago on Introduction

    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...

    Lynne Bruning
    Lynne Bruning

    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

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


    12 years ago on Introduction

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

    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


    Reply 13 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    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
    Lynne Bruning

    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    Conductive Hook and Loop Tape can be purchased thru HookandLoop

    Good luck with your project!


    14 years ago on Introduction

    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
    its a lion

    Reply 13 years ago on Introduction

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


    14 years ago on Introduction

    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
    Lynne Bruning

    Reply 14 years ago on Introduction

    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.