12 March 2012

Technology Leads The Blind

Technology has come a long way, even for persons with disabilities (PWD).
There are mobile applications where speech may be converted to text and vice versa, thus making it easier for persons with visual impairment to send and receive text or email messages.
Engineers are also developing the use of robotic exoskeleton to enable paraplegics to be mobile again.
Recently, a group of graduating Computer Engineering students from the Mapua Institute of Technology stumbled upon an idea to help persons with visual impairment communicate better and easier through an innovative mobile invention.

The students designed the Wearable Obstacle Detection System, a device that can detect obstacles in front of the user, and the Braille Cell Phone that is equipped with a Braille keypad.
“We saw a blind person using her cell phone and we noticed how she held the phone by her ear to listen to messages. It took her a long time to type a message because of repeated mistakes. So we came up with an idea to make a product that can make it easier for the blind to use a mobile phone and at the same time help their mobility,” explains team member Girly Perando, 21.
“The device has three main functions — call, text, and obstacle detection. It detects obstacles using a simple infrared sensor,” Perando explains.
For five months, they toiled to create the prototype — a box-like device, the size of a notebook, that is two inches thick. It is connected to a sensor and attached to a metal cane. It has a mobile GSM module inside to enable it to send and receive calls and text messages. The simple box has a numeric keypad in the middle, five function buttons below it, and a Braille keypad above the numeric keypad.
The obstacle detection sensor is connected to the box device via wire. The sensor has two ‘’eyes” or infrared sensors that detect obstacle up to five meters. It vibrates to warn the user.
On the other hand, the Braille keypad has six small knobs that bob up and down to create the Braille character. A message that the device receives is converted to Braille, which can then be read by the user.
The team had a difficult time designing the actual device since it has multiple functions.
“We had a difficult time thinking how we would be able to fit the components, make it smaller and integrate the main functions in a single device,” explains team member Kristine Emy Matabang, 20.
The team tested the prototype by collaborating with the Give Love Assoociation for the Blind, Inc.
The device is still in the prototype stage and needs a lot of work but it was interesting enough for the judges of the 8th Smart Wireless Engineering Education Program (SWEEP) Innovation and Excellence Awards to choose it to receive the championship trophy.
The team from Mapua was named as the overall champion in the recent student competition which is an annual search for the most innovative wireless applications conducted by Smart Communications.
The Mapua team bested 142 other entries submitted by student-teams from Smart’s partner schools under SWEEP. The team received R500,000 as cash prize, while their school received a grant in the same amount.
“We believed in the value of our design.  We were so overwhelmed because it made us feel that hard work really pays off,” says team leader Janiena Roxanne Dirain.
They plan to continue developing their prototype so it will actually benefit the blind community, the main inspiration for this project. They hope to see the day when the device is being used by persons with visual impairment in the future.
“To people with visual impairment, you are the inspiration behind our project. We are doing our best to make it available for you in the near future,” 21-year-old Dirain says.
“Since we are all graduating students, we are looking forward to work on the product even after school. We believe that this will open doors to greater opportunities,” Matabang ends.




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