Visa Challenge 1st Place Winners came up with the idea for Blindsight as part of high school engineering final project.
Senioritis. Commonly known as the affliction of students in their final year of high school characterized by a decline in motivation or performance. Did you experience this? Well, team Blindsight did not.
This past May, just weeks away from graduation, a team of high school students formed to work on their final high school engineering project. That’s when the idea for Blindsight was created and since then, the team has not stopped.
Blindsight is an assistive armband for the visually impaired. A camera continually takes images of the user's surroundings, and a description of these images are read out loud to the user, allowing visually impaired people to visualize their environment despite not being able to see.
This idea and product won 1st place in their high school entrepreneur project, Grand Prize for the China-US Young Maker Competition Regional Qualifier (becoming one of the ten teams to represent the US in China) and now Visa Challenge 1st Place Winner for The TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon.
The team is now preparing for the Disrupt Semi-Finals where they will demo Blindsight in hopes of winning the first-ever global virtual TechCrunch Hackathon.
How did you come up with idea for Blindsight?
Our team came up with the idea for Blindsight as part of our high school engineering final project. One of our friend’s dad suffers from a condition that renders him almost completely blind, and we were surprised to learn that the headset he currently uses costs a staggering $10,000. With our backgrounds in software and hardware development, we were confident that we could address some of the difficulties blind people face through a new combination of ubiquitous technology. After a few weeks of intensive prototyping, our team had established a functional concept device that enabled ‘sight’ through touch, and thus Blindsight was born.
Why do you think some mobile apps have not tapped in to creating their solutions for visually impaired?
We believe that there are a number of factors inhibiting the creation and adoption of new solutions for the visually impaired. Developers often prioritize rapid advancements in functionality for their products at the cost of integrating accessibility, since the population of visually impaired individuals is relatively small compared to their overall target markets. If developers do choose to focus on accessibility technologies, there is often a disconnect between the developed solution and the actual needs of blind people themselves. Because of these factors, technology for the visually impaired has not advanced at the same rate as in our society at large.
Have you tested this with any visually impaired people? If so, what has been their reaction?
As we began working on Blindsight, we were able to leverage social media and our professional networks to organically connect with nearly a dozen visually impaired individuals. The response we have received has been very positive and reassuring, since our primary focus with Blindsight is to make a truly useful and functional device. We have used our contacts with these individuals to inform and modify our design choices as we iterated on the product. At this stage in development, we are not yet ready to send beta devices to visually impaired individuals, though we hope to reach this milestone soon.
What Visa APIs are you using in the project and what user pain-point does it address?
We utilized the Visa ATM Location API, the Locate Merchant API, Visa Direct API, and the Mobile Location Confirmation API in this project. Through the use of these features, we are able to provide a better payment solution for blind people, and also allow them to make simple direct transactions. Additionally, we can find blind-friendly ATMs specifically for the user, and utilize location confirmation to prevent fraud.
How else could use see commerce being included in the application?
VISA is already a broadly accepted commerce platform, and we believe that our integration with VISA will encourage local businesses to become blind-friendly. Through notifications integrated with Blindsight, wearers will be able to preferentially select establishments that have accessible features, like blind-friendly ATMs. As we develop further, we believe that commerce can be integrated to make the user’s life simpler while also incentivizing accessibility for businesses.
Why did you choose to submit for the Visa Challenge?
As we began to build out features for Blindsight and the accompanying smart assistant, we recognized that payment handling was an area of potential concern for the visually impaired. Current app-based solutions are able to handle actual monetary currency, but a safe and secure credit card solution was lacking. By integrating with the widely utilized VISA platform and submitting for this challenge, our team was able to add important functionality and also win funds to further improve our device and design.
What is next for Blindsight?
Our team aims to utilize the funds we have won and also seek additional capital to advance our product to the next step. We are in the process of determining options for manufacturing our device into a much smaller profile that better resembles the traditional image of a smartwatch. We are also working on incorporating new software and hardware technologies, including a dynamic Braille ‘display.’
Stay up to date on the latest from TechCrunch Disrupt results by following us on Twitter @VisaDeveloper or signing up for our newsletters here.