Boston startup uses wearable sonar technology to guide sight impaired

BOSTON, Mass. — For the visually impaired, navigating the world can be challenging. Canes and guide dogs can be a big help, but a local startup company is taking it to the next level.

The Sunu Band, which resembles a Fitbit, is equipped with sonar. It gives the wearer feedback by vibrating with varying degrees of frequency as they approach a potential obstacle.

Chris McNally, of Natick, is a big fan of this new product. He’s been dealing with low vision since birth.

“I feel like I am seeing with it, which sounds strange to say, but I definitely get the feeling of seeing the things in front of me as objects and geometric shapes," McNally said.

Boston entrepreneur Fernando Albertorio started selling the device last fall. The idea came after observing blind children playing in Mexico.

"There are times when conventional travel aids miss out on certain obstacles like signposts, mailboxes, tree branches and bushes," said Albertorio. "In the near future, we can use sonar technology to actually tell you what type of object. If it's soft like a human, or a hard object like a glass door or wall."

As the U.S. population ages, Albertorio believes there will be additional needs for sight-impaired individuals.

"By 2020, we are going to have 20 million people living with severe vision or sight loss… because of diseases like diabetes, macular degeneration, glaucoma and cancer..."

For Chris McNally, the Sunu Band is about improving his quality of life.

"I was tripping all the time, falling all the time. The world is now getting to be a much brighter and technologically advanced place here," said McNally.

Sunu is planning on adding additional features, like the ability to link to Google maps and monitor fitness.

It currently sells for $299 but is currently on backorder until about mid-August.