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CMU students develop technology for the blind

DOHA A GROUP of students from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) are conducting technology research projects in India that benefits the visually impaired.

Eight students are spending the summer in Bangalore after being selected to join the 2013 innovative Student Technology ExPerience (iSTEP) internship. iSTEP is a summer research internship programme that provides the opportunity to conduct technology research projects in communities across the world.

The 2013 team is working on several projects that support blind students who are learning to write Braille.

They are further developing the software device connected to a computer that allows blind students to learn the placement of the different dots in a Braille cell.

Aveed Sheikh, a business administration student at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar and his fellow Pittsburgh teammates, Madeleine Clute, Maddie Gioffre, Poornima Kaniarasu, Aditya Kodkany, Vivek Nair, Shree Lakshmi Rao and Avia Weinstein, have moved to Bangalore for the summer months and are working in partnership with the Mathru Educational Trust for the Blind.

“It is a wonderful learning experience to work with a multi-talented international CMU team to make a difference,” said Aveed.

The Mathru Educational Trust for the Blind includes the Mathru School for the Blind, which is a non-profit and voluntary institution founded in 2001 to educate and rehabilitate visually impaired children and adults.

In 2011, the Trust launched a new center educating children who are deaf and/or have multiple disabilities.

“Mathru is an inspirational partner, we have relished working with the staff dedicated to teaching differently-abled students,” said Shree Lakshmi Rao, another iSTEP intern.

Blind students can also learn to write Braille through different games and exercise using a slate and stylus. The device provides instant audio feedback based on the user’s input and corrects mistakes.

The interns are working on enhancing existing modes on the Braille Writing Tutor (BWT) software by introducing Kannada (local language) and Hindi Braille, in addition to mathematics.

In addition to software development, the students have been working with the Trust to conduct interviews, user experience tests, and analysing data to fully understand the technology’s impact.

“Interacting directly with the staff and students at Mathru has helped me learn and understand different perspectives.

Everyone here has a unique life story to tell, which makes my work even more interesting,” said Aveed.

The interns will assess the needs of the new multi-disability centre and hand over the results to the iSTEP 2014 team, who are planning to return to Bangalore next summer to work with the Mathru Educational Trust on new projects.The team’s CMU education has stood them in good stead during their internship.

iSTEP was created in 2009 by CMU research group TechBridgeWorld, and is designed to give interns realworld experiences.


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