Eye-Opening Innovation at TEDx Gateway
 

Eye-Opening Innovation at TEDx Gateway

By Arunima Rajan
Mumbai’s recent TEDx Gateway event was a hub of technical innovations, many aimed at helping those in need. Think that’s an ordinary watch or shoe? Think again

Imagine that you are blind and trying to navigate a bustling city like Mumbai. Sound dangerous? Inventors and innovators at the recent TEDx Gateway event agree. So they came up with some incredible solutions.

Take the Dot Watch, Dot Pad and Le Chal shoes. These were all conceived with blind users in mind. With 50 million blind people living in India, these lightweight and high-tech devices could change how the millions connect with their world. So let’s learn more about these exciting innovations.

1. Connect the dots

The Dot Watch, scheduled to hit the market in 2016, works like a smartwatch except that it displays information in raised Braille dots — hence the name of the product. In a flash, this device transports visually impaired people into the world of technology and communication; plus it acts as a great portable platform for learning Braille.

The similar Dot Pad provides an even closer link with modern technology in terms of communication and learning. CEO Eric Ju Yoon Kim says the English version of the product is ready and the company is currently searching for student volunteers to work on the Hindi version.

While the Dot Watch is priced under $300, Dot Pad, which is similar to an iPad but specialised for the visually impaired, will be priced at $900. While that is quite pricey, Kim assures people that, “For a country like India or even South Africa, the Dot team has developed a module which can be installed in a library or an ATM. The module will be priced under $50.”

2. A vision of help

How did these innovations come about? Kim explains his motivation for the Dot devices with a short story:

“I didn’t even know this problem existed. I did my schooling in South Korea. Then, I went to the US [and] met a blind woman at the local Christian community. Knowing her, I could see how hard it was for her.”

As he goes on to explain, “I figured out that the reason why I wanted to become an entrepreneur was to help people, find solutions to existing problems and solve [them] more efficiently. That became my vision. For [blind people] education is so limited. They cannot read and they cannot get a good job. That’s why I started working on it.”

3. Good vibrations

Another attraction at TEDx was a project called “Le Chal”. The product name means “take me there” in Hindi. This interactive haptic footwear, started by Anirudh Sharma, can aid the visually impaired using GPS navigation.

The shoe not only tells the user which way to go using gentle directional vibrations, it also collects data about their daily activities and exercise patterns. The shoe and the insole will work in tandem with an app that collects and collates data, allowing users to set fitness goals and customise workouts.

Though the project was initially meant for blind people, Le Chal co-founder Anirudh Sharma believes it has applications for sighted people as well. Perhaps that’s why for each pair of shoes purchased, part of the proceeds will go to subsidising a pair for a visually challenged person.