The Times of India.
Friday, May 12, 2006.
AHMEDABAD: A palmtop and a device the size of a cell phone can now help the visually impaired to 'see'. Four students from Gujarat have come up with an innovative gadget for the blind, which mimics the technique of echolocation used by bats to identify obstacles. The creation has won them Rs 1 lakh as prize money at an international competition.
It was a visit to a school for the blind in Gandhinagar that triggered the idea in Deepak Jagdish, Mohit Gupta, Shreyas Nangia and Rahul Sawhney, 20-something students of Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology (DAIICT).
It was while preparing to compete in Microsoft's global competition on software development called the Imagine Cup that they came up with Sonique - an amalgamation of the concepts of sensory substitution and biomimicry - in this case, the ultrasonic sound used by bats.
"The idea is to locate obstacles by measuring the frequency of sound, once it hits the obstacle and is reflected back to you," explains Jagdish. Costing Rs 30,000, the device sends out signals that hit the obstacle and, upon reflection, get transferred to the palmtop to generate a sonic map. This in turn creates a virtual environment for the receiver using sound frequency.
The higher the frequency, the closer is the obstacle. "It can take about 15 days for the user to learn frequency identification," Jagdish adds. The palmtop, costing about Rs 20,000, can be replaced by a cell phone for these who can't afford it, says Gupta. While the technique is being used and researched in other parts of the world, it is a new concept in India, says Blind People's Association director Bhushan Punani, who provided consultation to the inventors before they entered the competition. "Sonique, if made available, can be an effective substitute," he says. Quite feasible also, says Gupta, if manufactured on a mass level. "We hope to get sponsors soon," he adds.
The foursome will represent India in the Imagine Cup finals, to be held in Agra in August, for the prize money of $25,000. Asked about the Rs 1 lakh that they've already bagged, Jagdish says, "We will use it to make a fully-working prototype for the finals," says Jagdish.
End of article.
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