Dubai teen builds prototype to help visually impaired avoid obstacles, danger Filed on August 22, 2021 | Last updated on August 22, 2021 at 11.19 pm

Supplied photo

Supplied photo

Her prototype, which she completed in a period of two months, helped her school bag the UK’s Silver Crest Award in Science.

A Dubai teenager’s discovery might be a game-changer for those with visual impairments.

Maria Falaknaz, a UAE national and Grade 8 student at Wellington International School (WIS), has developed a prototype of sensors in self-driven cars and incorporated that design into walking canes that can alert users of obstacles and dangers. Her prototype, which she completed in a period of two months, helped her school bag the UK’s Silver Crest Award in Science.

“I originally set out to research the use of car sensors and to look at the science and technology behind this. I decided to design and build a motorised Lego car with built-in sensors. I had to code the module so that I could collect data about the sensor’s stopping distance. I collected multiple sets of data by looking at the sensor’s accuracy,” Maria said.

Though she didn’t have access to her school’s science laboratories because of Covid-19, Maria gained her knowledge from STEAM lessons at school and by relentlessly endeavouring at home.

Her car project offered her detailed information on how the sensors worked and the technology behind it.

“It then inspired me to think about how it could add value to societies and how it can be used to benefit the visually impaired. That’s when I came up with the idea of integrating it into a walking aid to alert users of obstacles and dangers within their immediate space. I collected data with large objects, small objects, trip hazards and stairs. My findings showed that this piece of technology would be of major value to the visually impaired. The project wasn’t just a thought or idea. I actually integrated it into both a working car, which was coded on a computer, and a walking stick and collected multiple sets of data,” she said.

Maria adopted the Planned Approach to Community Health (PATCH) model, which involved identifying the problem; analyzing, solving and testing it; and finally, assessing how beneficial it will prove for communities.

“My ultimate aspiration is to design a walking stick/aid with built-in sensors linked to applications on phones, which can then be connected to earphones to alert the user of dangers in their vicinity. This technology can also be integrated into virtual type headsets that provide an image for the visually impaired so that they can see the obstacle approaching,” she added.

Maria, who hopes to become a doctor one day, said her teachers offered her guidance and inspired her to persevere with her project despite the challenges.

“I’ve had a few teachers in my school who make you love a subject you had no idea you’re going to research and study so much, until you attended their classes and saw their deep interest, their igniting flame and how proud they make you feel when you raise your hand to participate in their class and ask a good question,” she said. “The most inspiring teacher is the one who teaches me how to think, not what to think. I’ve had a few such remarkable teachers who changed my perspective for the better.”

Nandini Sircar

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