Seeing for the Blind
Seeing for the Blind

Our story

The Problem

#blind, Seeing for the blind, Sidharth Anantha , Vikram Anantha

There are 285 million people legally blind worldwide (https://www.who.int/blindness/GLOBALDATAFINALforweb.pdf). Legally blind means that one’s vision is weaker than 20/200 even with the aid of eyeglasses or contacts. In other words, their vision is degraded to the point at which it is not adequate enough to provide them with any understanding of their surroundings. From a practical standpoint, this lack of understanding makes navigation for the visually impaired especially difficult. In addition to this, visual impairment causes one to feel detached from society, as they are unable to know what is around them. Seeing for the blind helps to deal with these issues by collecting information about the blind user’s surroundings and conveying it to the user. This way, a few of the 285 million people can understand what is around them. With this knowledge, the visually impaired can create a mental map of their surroundings and use it to help them navigate and feel integrated with society.

How did this all start?

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Sidharth was in India when he watched an elderly blind woman find her way through a busy train car. She kept tapping her cane on seats, people and luggage. He saw how her visual impairment prevented her from understanding her surroundings, and he wanted to solve the problem. Sid wanted to create a device that would help blind people, like her, understand their surroundings so they could navigate their environment. He wanted to recreate sight for them as much as possible by describing the surroundings to them. He wanted to make a device that could allow the blind to know where objects are around them, so they could find it easier to navigate their daily environment. He also wanted the blind to know what was around them, by having the device automatically tell them what they were “looking” at, be it their loved one’s face or an object like a car. With that Sid decided that he would create a device that had two components, one that would tell the blind/visually impaired person whether they were close or far away from an object (my echolocation system) and the identity of that object (my object identification system). Sid hoped that both systems together would provide the blind with enough information on their surroundings to paint a picture in their mind of what was around them. With this, Sidharth hoped to recreate sight as much as possible so that they could understand their surroundings and finally “see” again.

How did the product evolve?

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Sidharth worked on this project from October 2016 to April 2017, and developed the eye-level obstacle avoidance component of this project. Sidharth entered this invention into the Northern New England Regional Invention Convention in 2017. At that competition, Sidharth won the 3rd place for the Top Coder award for disruptive technology, the IEEE Electric and Design award and best in high school division. At that time, Sidharth only had developed the obstacle avoidance system for eye-level objects. The judges told me that the glasses were interesting but blind people could easily bump into steps or stones as they were walking. Sidharth took the feedback I got from the judges and audience and built the ground-level obstacle avoidance system. I was later invited to compete in the   National Invention Convention (NICEE)  in June 2017, where I presented the eye-level and ground-level obstacle avoidance systems. At this event, Sidharth won Third place in grade (9-12th) at the competition. After success at this competition, he continued to develop this project throughout 2017 and 2018.

After 9 months of work, Sidharth improved the design of the echolocation system (see pictures of 3D printed grids), and entered the 2018 Northern New England Regional Invention Convention with an improved invention. Sidharth won several awards, including Best in grade (9-12th), the Special Needs award and the Fidelity Innovation Award. Sidharth also won 3rd place in the 2018 Massachusetts State Science Fair (MSSF). Again, he took all the feedback he received from the judges and the audience to improve and optimize the design. He optimized both the sonar component of the glasses and shoes, and the audio and tactile feedback to make it more intuitive and accurate. Then, Sidharth was again invited to compete in the  2018 National Invention Convention (NICEE) and this time, he won Best in Grade, 2nd Place in Grade Category Awards (10-12th Grade), the Patent Award by WilmerHale, and the Henry Ford Best of Show Model I Youth Innovator Award, which was the top award of the competition.

Again, my awards at the national level reinforced the impact of my invention, but Sidharth was again not satisfied with what he had built, because, the sonar Arduino controllers could only tell the blind person where objects were in relation to the user, but not what the objects were. Again, he took the feedback he got from judges and the audience and improved the invention by adding an object identification system that used a camera to capture images in front of the user and a machine learning algorithm loaded onto a Raspberry PI computer that would tell the blind user what the object is. Sidharth also incorporated a facial recognition algorithm that likewise uses the images from the camera and a neural network on the Raspberry Pi to recognize the faces of loved ones for the user.

Important Milestones

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2019

2nd place, Diamond Challenge (www.diamondchallenge.org)(won over $11,000)


2nd place, Massachusetts State Science Fair


Office of Naval Research- Naval Science Award

2018

U.S. Patent Application Number: 16/207943; WEARABLE NAVIGATION SYSTEM FOR THE VISUALLY IMPAIRED; WH Reference Number: 2215284.00126US1


Henry Ford Best of Show Model I Youth Innovator Award; 2018 National Invention Convention (NICEE)


Patent Award by WilmerHale; 2018 National Invention Convention (NICEE)


Best in Grade, 2nd Place in Grade Category Awards (10-12th Grade); 2018 National Invention Convention (NICEE)


3rd Place award, 2018 Massachusetts state Science Fair,


Fidelity Innovation Award; 2018 Northern New England Regional Invention Convention


Special Needs award; 2018 Northern New England Regional Invention Convention


Best in grade (9-12th); 2018 Northern New England Regional Invention Convention

2017

Third place in grade (9-12th): 2017 National Invention Convention (NICEE)


IEEE Electric and Design award; 2017 Northern New England Regional Invention Convention


Top Coder award for disruptive technology, 3rd place; 2017 Northern New England Regional Invention Convention