A team of ECE students won second place in the ASAIO Student Design Competition! Team EagleEye, comprised of students Rachel Gray, Jack Wang and Mauro Zabala, designed a vest to give vision back to the blind, using sensory substitution.
“The theory of sensory substitution is that the brain….can use one sensory input to replace another one. We used vibration patterns to represent the visual world, so in essence a person can "feel" vision,” Wang explained.
“We've made so many advances in technology, yet the cane and seeing eye dog remain the only widespread navigational aid used by the blind. A better navigational aid would increase the quality of life and independence of people who are visually impaired and blind,” Gray added.
The system is comprised of a set of dual cameras to capture visual depth, a vest to deliver vibration patterns, and a digital signal processor to perform image processing and transform visual cues to vibration signals.
The team’s overall goal is to improve the quality of life for the visually impaired, and increase their independence through a better navigational aid. Gray noted that with the advances in technology that have been made in recent years, the visually impaired are still relying on tools such as the cane, or service animals.
“It can be a daunting and even dangerous task to venture to unknown locations without being able to see your surroundings. With this device, hopefully that task will be easier for them and they can feel more comfortable mobilizing by themselves,” Zabala said.
“It is not just about navigation; it is about recovering vision for those who cannot see using another sense such as tactile feedback,” Wang added.
The trio also noted that the ASAIO conference was an excellent experience, giving them the opportunity to meet individuals in the medical field that they would not necessarily have had the opportunity to meet at an engineering or computing conference. It also gave them a sense of the collaboration that is involved in a lot of research projects.
“We met doctors and medical researchers whom we would not typically meet in an ECE or CS conference. We had in-depth conversations with several of them, all of whom gave us great advice, [and told us to] "always collaborate". It was also inspiring to see various technologies being applied in a medical setting,” Wang said.
Wang also noted that the conference allowed them to practice presentation skills that are so essential for success.
“In terms of engineering education, I think one thing Rice does very well is to not only focus on learning the material, but also focus on presenting what you have learnt and what you have achieved,” Wang said. “I think it is very important, as an engineering student, to be able to connect with people who have no knowledge in your domain, i.e. to have the skill to explain complicated engineering concepts in very simple and intuitive terms. I think people with this skill are more likely to make a bigger impact.”