An 18-year-old has been presented with an innovation award after designing a navigation system for the visually impaired.

Alex Deans was 12 years old when he was inspired watching a visually-impaired woman struggle to cross the street.

Deans told CTV's Canada AM that he thought he could help, even though he wasn't immediately sure how.

Over the next three years, the Windsor, Ont., teenager spent evenings and weekends building a device that uses ultrasonic sensors.

"It was about thinking outside of the box," he said, explaining that his device works in a way similar to bats' use of echolocation.

"Nature is such a great innovator, so I tried to mimic that using this invention."

Four sensors on a belt scan the space around the wearer, and send a signal to a handheld joystick which moves to direct the wearer away from walls, chairs and other obstacles.

Deans said the amount of time he spent on the project added up, "but it's something I enjoyed doing so I always found time for it."

To come up with his invention, the Grade 12 student spent years learning how to use ultrasonic sensors, and how to simulate a human's vision. He worked with inventors around the world, and spent time at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.

"It was just amazing to see their feedback," he said.

He developed a prototype and learned code in his spare time, then figured out how to connect the device to Bluetooth, Google Maps and Android smartphones.

He spent two years refining the device, which he named the "iAid."

Deans will be awarded the Weston Youth Innovation Award at the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto on Tuesday. The award comes with a $2,000 prize, which Deans said he plans to use to further develop his invention.

He will also work with a multimedia team at the Science Centre to create an animated showcase for his project, which will be displayed at the centre.