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#TechThursdays - Gurugram students design walking stick & self help shoes for visually impaired people

In our weekly feature #TechThursdays we turn the spotlight on a school that is going against the norm of marks and grades and encouraging its students to develop lateral thinking skills.

What happens when you encourage students to come up with solutions to real world problems and develop working prototypes of solutions, they have proposed using latest technologies?

You get an automated walking stick, 3D printed braille cards, and "help me shoes - all aimed at enabling visually impaired people perform daily tasks with ease.

These are smart devices developed by students of classes 9, 10 and 11 of the Heritage Xperiential Learning School (HXLS) in Gurugram under the Saksham Project. The project is a part of the school's Maker-centred learning programme.

Started in 2016, Saksham aims to enable students to use digital tools to address issues of social relevance.

There are Genius Hours woven into the daily curriculum so students have the opportunity to convert the knowledge they gain from textbooks and lectures into actionable outcomes.

This is unique and comes from a genuine desire to make a difference in the world. It's about reaching out to people with disabilities, not in a pitying way, but to make a genuine, meaningful and long lasting connection. = Kevin Brady, Head, Senior Programme, Heritage Xperiential Learning School

For the project, HXLS students collaborated with schools for visually impaired students to create prototypes that would help address their daily challenges.

"The entire concept of Makers Space was to empower students with a sense of agency, that if they feel enough for a cause, they can be the agents of change and not wait for someone else, says Noora Naushad, Head, Design and Technology, HXLS. "To form a sense of empathy so we decided to collaborate with external agents as we felt it necessary to talk to visually impaired people to live and breathe in their environment and understand where their struggles came from.

The team from HXLS interviewed students of the Bharat Blind Technical Welfare Society and Captain Chandan Lal Special Middle School for Blind to understand issues with mobility, education and social stigma.

"We wanted to create a change, or rather, initiate one and create a path for others to walk on and as a result, create a better living environment for the visually impaired, adds Simar Kaur, a teacher at the school. "We concentrated on a few major aspects we felt were proving as obstacles for the visually impaired.

Based on the feedback, the students developed prototypes and design solutions like:

  • Automated Walking Stick - A 'smart' walking stick, it alerts users to obstructions on the way and thereby reduces accidents. The stick also provides alerts through vibrations rather than sound to enable for better response from the user. The team used Arduino, the open-source electronics platform, to make the stick work. The stick also has a buzzer which alerts the user to obstacles. 3d printed technology was used to encase the electronic parts and protect them from heat and water.
  • 3D Printed Braille cards - The cards were created to address the scarcity of user-friendly educational resources for visually impaired people. The students first designed the 3D books and the content in the software Google sketch up and Fusion 360 to make the layout of the books. They incorporated Braille points in the design. Then this design was fed into the 3d printer and the 3d printer printed the books.
  • 'Help Me' Shoes - These shows indicate obstructions with the help of an alarm. The prototype also has sensors that help the user to navigate easily. Arduino was used to make the shoes. Like the walking stick, ultrasonic sensors were incorporated for detecting the distance. The shoes are under testing phase.

Jivitesh Singh Kamboj, 12, who is among the students who worked on these designs, says the experience has increased his desire to work for people with visual impairments.

"All the tasks that are performed by the visually impaired require a great deal of dedication and reliance on the other major human senses. So why not contribute to making things easier, by enabling them to do more, to making life a little more comfortable for them? This is the philosophy that pushed me to create the smart walking stick. My interactions with the visually impaired, not only increased my respect for them but also strengthened my belief that something more could be done for the community.

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