Each semester, ECE 480 faculty and senior students collaborate with RCPD’s Assistive Technology Specialist to tackle an array of engineering challenges, with a set number of projects devoted to improving accessibility. Projects are typically proposed by persons with disabilities and then sponsored by corporate or private entities interested in accessible design. People with disabilities also serve as part of the expert team that guides the concepts to completion.
This year, three RCPD/College of Engineering partner projects were showcased at Design Day on April 25, 2014.
Accessible Tactile Graphic Printer
Tactile graphics and Braille are essential components to making education accessible to the visually impaired. RCPD currently has two tactile graphic embossers that produce pictures, charts and drawings to assist blind students in their studies. The downfall of these embossers; however, is that the images they produce are frail and eventually get pressed down after repeated use, which, in turn, makes it difficult for a blind student to identify the image. A team was assigned the responsibility of designing a specialty printer that can be used to produce tactile graphics and maps for blind users/students at MSU. This tactile graphic printer should produce more durable images and cost significantly less. The project was sponsored by Stephen Blosser, assistive technology specialist with RCPD and the team for this project consisted of MSU College of Engineering students Eman Aljabr, of Qatif, Saudi Arabia; Bryan Cotton, of Jackson, Michigan; Caroline Kerbells, of Oxford, Michigan; Martez Steverson, of Detroit, Michigan; Maram Sulimani, of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and Changqing Yang, of Shanghai, China.
Refreshable 3D Braille Display
In an age of forever increasing digitization, issues arise with equalizing opportunities for the blind. This presents a lack of resources for blind students, especially when it comes to situations which require 3D images (e.g. 3D curves in calculus, maps, etc.). There are currently no existing devices that utilize a refreshable display in order to display 3D images. A refreshable braille display or braille terminal is an electro-mechanical device for displaying braille characters, usually by means of round-tipped pins raised through holes in a flat surface. Blind computer users, who cannot use a computer monitor, use refreshable displays to read text output. A team was assigned to construct a device that will be able to receive image files, analyze and process the image in terms of color intensity, and then output the results via a 3D pin matrix display, with color intensity determining the height of each pin. The refreshable nature of this device has many practical applications with functionality that is currently unavailable in the marketplace. It will also be far less costly than the use of non-refreshable technology. The project was sponsored by Stephen Blosser, assistive technology specialist with RCPD and Satish Udpa, executive vice president for Administrative Services for MSU. The team for this project consisted of MSU College of Engineering students Steven Chao, of Grosse Ile, Michigan; Kodai Ishikawa, of Monroe, Michigan; Daniel Olbrys, of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan; Terry Pharaon, of Port-Au-Prince, Haiti; and Michael Wang, of Troy, Michigan.
Bluetooth Low Energy Beacon
The MSU campus consists of 538 buildings spread out over 8.125 square miles. For the blind or visually-impaired members of the MSU community, navigating campus can be a challenging task. RCPD has proposed the use of a new interactive positioning interface, a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacon to assist blind people in navigating around campus. With the release of iOS 7, Apple announced iBeacons, a feature that allows an iOS device to calculate its location relative to Bluetooth beacons. RCPD would like to use this technology for assistive navigation by placing BLE beacons inside building entrances and hallways. These beacons will allow iOS 7- and Android-based smart phones to precisely calculate their position inside a building. The project was sponsored by Stephen Blosser, assistive technology specialist with RCPD and Aditya Mathew, a consultant with RCPD. The team for this project consisted of MSU College of Engineering students Nicholas Blackledge, of Dansville, Michigan; Chunyang Chu, of Changchun, China; Steven Le, of Grand Rapids, Michigan; Matt Smania, of DeWitt, Michigan; and Bowei Yu, of Fuzhou, China.