An 18-year-old from Toronto, Ont. was awarded top honours at the Canada-wide Science Fair for developing a wearable perception aid for the visually impaired.

The device uses ultrasonic and light detection and ranging (LiDAR) measurements to collect information about the environment around the user. Small motors then deliver vibrations warning the user of obstacles in their way.

“The communication system is a second skin of sorts that has these vibration motors worn all over. This is supposed to be worn under your clothing,” Manning Whitby explained to CTV’s Your Morning.

“Similar to a backup camera the closer you get to an obstacle, the more intense these vibrations will be. But not only does it give you information about depth, but also location of those environmental features.”

The Grade 12 student says he’s spent between 80 and 90 hours per week developing his prototype, and has been working on the project for four years.

“I originally saw the idea of assistive technologies, more specifically a blind navigation device in Grade 8. Another student was working on a device similar to that, but it was very flawed in design,” he explained.

Earlier this year, he took a month off school to further develop his device in the hopes of turning the technology into a startup.

“It was always an idea to move forward as a startup,” said Whitby. “From the fair I’ve gained a little more opportunity financially to quit my summer job and now I have all summer to work on my project, prepare it for internationals.”

Whitby was awarded the “Best Senior” project award at the Canada-Wide Science Fair, in addition to being selected for the Youth Can Innovate award, which comes with a $1,000 cash prize.

He will attend the University of Ottawa this fall, where he plans to continue work on his project.