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Dubai teen makes prototype to help people with vision disabilities avoid dangerous obstacles

Young blind man with stick and guide dog walking

A Dubai teenager’s discovery could be a game-changer for people with vision disabilities navigating the world.

Maria Falaknaz, a UAE national and Grade 8 student at Wellington International School (WIS), developed a prototype of sensors in autonomous vehicles, incorporating that design into walking canes that will alert users of obstacles and dangers. Her prototype, which was completed in two months, won her school the UK’s Silver Crest Award in Science, reported the Kahleej Times.

“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,” Falaknaz said.

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.

Falaknaz 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 a specific community.

“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.

Falaknaz, who aspires to become a doctor, said her teachers were of great assistance by guiding and encouraging her to continue on with the project despite the number of challenges she faced along the way.

“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.”

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