A group of university students have developed an affordable, portable device that instantly converts text and numerals into braille.
BraillEye, a pocket-sized device, will be displayed along with other projects at a business incubator in the three-day Think Science Fair in Dubai this week.
“This was the first time that we turned something that was purely theoretical into something real, and it was a great learning opportunity,” said Mahmoud Abutaqiya, an electrical engineering undergraduate at UAE University.
He made the device with five friends from the chemical engineering, technical and business management departments at the university.
“I tell students even if they have only an idea, they should participate because even if they don’t win but their idea has promise they will be contacted to find out what help they require,” Mr Abutaqiya said.
It has taken two years for the UAE University team to produce the prototype for the fair, after it won a contest.
The concept was inspired to help Saifldden Taqatqa, a visually impaired team member who needs visual aids for daily tasks such as understanding shop price tags.
Assistive devices are usually focused on helping those with visual disabilities to read from the internet or documents.
“In his daily life Saif needs to ask people to read for him,” said Mr Abutaqiya, a Think Science ambassador.
“The assistive technology that is available for the visually impaired is either not effective or super-expensive. We wanted to come up with something that would help in daily life so he could read like you and I can. This is something that you can put in your pocket and it can read anything that is written from a restaurant menu or a price tag in a shop.
“The process takes a few seconds and anything in text or numbers is converted into Braille.”
A picture taken by the unit is converted into a format that can be felt on the BraillEye device.
Conversations with parents and people with visual disabilities helped the team to understand that the cost of assistive devices prevented parents from buying tools required for their children.
“Cost is a major issue because some technology is Dh30,000, so parents are not able to afford it,” Mr Abutaqiya said. “It’s like people are trying to exploit the problem they have. We want people to afford it so we are aiming for it to be less than $1,000 (Dh3,700).”
The prototype is in the testing stage with feedback invited from visually impaired students.
Now in its sixth year, the Think Science Fair run by the Emirates Foundation attracts university students and school pupils to display promising projects that can range from smart robots – machines powered by artificial intelligence – road safety designs, disabled-friendly mobility plans, food solutions and strategies to save the environment.
Winners of this year’s competition will be mentored and receive funding for incubation and launch stages for the first time since the contest was started.
This emphasis on building a prototype is part of efforts to promote the country as a global innovation centre.
Projects that are socially relevant and can affect a wide audience will be the cornerstone of the fair during the Year of Zayed.
“Social innovation projects are a centre of focus this year as part of the foundation encouraging youth to walk in the footsteps of the UAE’s Founding Father,” said Maytha Al Habsi, chief executive of the Emirates Foundation.
“As we continue to evolve our Think Science programme, we are building a true ecosystem for youth innovation in line with the foundation’s commitment to make the UAE one of the most innovative nations in the world.”
The ambition is to make the annual fair a destination for youth, and stimulate curiosity and interest in science.
The event would also help “young talent gain the right exposure and support to help them successfully launch their projects”, Ms Al Habsi said.
“Through our partnerships with specialied entities and innovation incubators, we are working to fuel and support the adoption of amazing youth inventions across all sectors.”
Top projects have included a large refrigerator that grows micro greens from seed to plant in 10 days, an underwater robot that can undertake long journeys, a drone that searches and attacks unauthorised drones, and virtual reality educational games.
The competition has attracted more than 12,000 young people since its inception and a record 1,880 projects were submitted this year.
Open from September to November, the contest encourages young people aged between 15 and 35 from the UAE.
The three-day Think Science Fair begins on Monday at the Dubai World Trade Centre.
© The NationalApr 2018