Projects listed in alphabetical order.
- Assistive Robots for Blind Travelers
- Braille Tutor
- Project Kané
Smart cities should be truly accessible and navigable for everyone, including people with disabilities. Although traveling safely and independently is a critical requirement for modern life, visually impaired people often find navigating unfamiliar urban environments challenging and sometimes daunting. The World Health Organization estimates that 285 million people in the world are visually impaired, of whom 39 million are blind. Through our Assistive Robots for Blind Travelers project, funded by the National Science Foundation, we are exploring robotics and computing technology solutions that can assist the visually impaired population with urban navigation in smart cities of the future.
This project is continued by Dr. Aaron Steinfeld at Carnegie Mellon University.
Literacy has been shown to be a key factor in global development. For many visually impaired communities around the world, learning braille is the only means of literacy. Despite its significance and the accessibility it brings, learning to write braille still has a number of barriers. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 90% of visually impaired people worldwide live in developing communities. Despite the importance of literacy to employment, social well-being, and health, the literacy rate of this population is estimated to be very low. In response to the observed need for enhancing literacy for the blind in underserved communities, TechBridgeWorld developed the Braille Writing Tutor (BWT) and the Stand-Alone Braille Writing Tutor (SABT) to help users learn and practice writing braille through the slate and stylus method.
The BWT helped users learn and practice writing braille. As the user wrote on the electronic slate with the stylus, the tutor provided immediate audio feedback by repeating the written dots, letters, numbers or words. The tutor also guided writing and corrected mistakes. The main objective was to teach braille writing via the slate and stylus method through guided practice. The immediate audio feedback served as a diagnostic tool for instructors, giving them a real-time understanding of what concepts the user did and did not grasp. The SABT addressed the challenges of power failures and lack of access to computers in developing communities. Motivated by feedback from TechBridgeWorld’s user groups around the world, the SABT conserved all of the BWT’s features, and was designed to work without an external computer, and can operate with a built-in rechargeable battery pack. Moreover, the SABT included three user interfaces (primary, intermediate and advanced) so that teachers can select the appropriate interface to match the skill level of the student.
The devices have been introduced to other schools and institutions in Bangladesh, China, India, Qatar, Tanzania, United States, and Zambia and are available in several languages including Arabic, Bangla, Chinese, English, French, Hindi, Kannada, and Kiswahili. The devices have also received national and international attention. The devices won the 2014 Touch of Genius Prize for Innovation from the National Braille Press based in Boston. The devices were a Fall 2015 cycle winner of the InfyMakers Awards Competition organized by InfoSys Foundation USA. Also in 2015, the devices were selected as a semi-finalist for the Robotics 4 Good competition organized by the United Arab Emirates Prime Minister’s Office.
An early version of the BWT software and hardware are available open source.
E-Village, short for Education e-Village, was a project that aimed to create an online community for technology and development education. E-Village was motivated by the need for relevant, accessible, and useful resources to enhance technology education in developing regions. The goals of the project were to design, implement, launch, and evaluate an online virtual community of educators that addresses these needs. Specifically, E-Village aimed to provide useful resources and supportive interactions that can empower individuals and organizations dedicated to enhancing university-level technology education in developing communities.
iSTEP, short for “innovative Student Technology ExPerience,” was an internship program that provided Carnegie Mellon University students with the opportunity to conduct technology research projects in developing communities. Launched in 2009, iSTEP was a rigorous and competitive 10-week internship program that required the involvement of students with high levels of dedication, team work, cross-cultural adaptability, initiative and academic achievement.
A total of 35 Carnegie Mellon University students participated in the iSTEP internship program and worked with community partners in Tanzania (2009), Bangladesh (2010), Uruguay (2011), Ghana (2012), and India (2013 and 2015). In Tanzania, students helped social workers to track information on services provided to AIDS orphans and vulnerable children. In Tanzania, Bangladesh, India, students helped to make the process of learning braille writing fun for blind children and made it easier for their blind teachers to diagnose mistakes. In Uruguay, students helped enhance English literacy among children and adults from different cultures and abilities through computer tools, and enabled their teachers to customize educational content for those tools. In Ghana, students helped improve water and waste resource monitoring and management. In India, students helped develop a tools to support the education of deaf and hard-of-hearing students.
Safe and independent navigation of urban environments is a key feature of accessible cities. People who have physical challenges need practical, customizable, low-cost and easily-deployable mobility aids to help them safely navigate urban environments. Technology tools provide opportunities to empower people with disabilities to overcome some day-to-day challenges.
Our NavPal project focuses on enhancing the navigation capability and thereby the independence and safety of visually impaired and deafblind people. The original goal of the project was to design, implement, test, and deploy a smartphone-based personalized aid. After more completely understanding the needs of visually impaired adults, and having developed and tested an initial prototype of the smartphone application for NavPal, we learned that dynamic feedback during navigation alone was insufficient to empower blind travelers to safely and independently navigate urban environments.
This project is continued by Dr. Aaron Steinfeld at Carnegie Mellon University.
Project Kané was a project in partnership with communities in Africa that explored the role that technology can play in improving English literacy among children with few opportunities for guided reading practice. Implemented in collaboration with several local partners, field studies made use of the LISTEN Reading Tutor, an automated tutor developed at Carnegie Mellon University.
Many TechBridgeWorld projects have focused on educational technology. Several of our projects have explored literacy challenges. In 2015, we completed a 3-year project funded by the Qatar National Research Fund entitled “Innovative Computing and Mobile Technology for Improving English Literacy Skills for Children and for Adults.” Our suite of literacy tools fall under our TechCaFE project (Technology for Customizable and Fun Education). TechCaFE provides educators with simple and customizable tools to make learning fun for students. Through TechCaFE we created a suite of culturally and socially relevant computer and mobile phone based tools for enhancing English literacy skills among children and adults.
Vision Unit, or V-Unit, was a program that encouraged graduate students and faculty to grow a vision of how computer science and technology can make a difference and contribute to solving these problems of society.