Two smart prototype devices developed by students at City University of Hong Kong (CityU) can help improve the quality of life for people with blindness or visual impairment, showcasing their innovative application of cross-disciplinary knowledge to solve social problems.
The smart navigation glasses called “Listen Your Way” relay information via a video camera, GPS system, voice device, and glasses connected to an app on the wearer’s smart phone. Through voices messages, the wearer can be made aware of possible obstructions ahead while walking and receive directions to an intended destination.
Another prototype, a smart walking stick called “Transfriendly”, helps people with visual impairments take buses. Users input their destination and bus route requirements in a Braille keyboard on the stick. There is a matching device on the bus which informs the driver of the location of the person waiting for it, and also lets the person with the stick know how far away the bus is. The invention of this device won an award in the “My Own Discovery Contest” at the 2014 CityU Discovery Festival.
“In the past, people with visual impairments might not want to leave their home due to their physical disability or other reasons. They were indirectly being isolated,” said Dr Yanto Chandra, Assistant Professor in CityU’s Department of Public Policy. “These smart devices improve the quality of the lives of people with eyesight problems, helping them to re-join their communities and expand their social circles.”
The two students who developed these prototypes are from different departments studying the Gateway Education (GE) courses “Make a Difference: The Challenge of Social Entrepreneurs in a Globalised World” and “Enhancing Your Service Leadership for the 21st Century” offered by Project Flame and the Department of Public Policy.
With an accumulated enrollment of more than 500 students, these two courses are supported by a partnership with the Hong Kong Institute of Service Leadership and Management as well as the Victor and William Fung Foundation. The two courses aim to develop students’ service leadership and sense of social responsibility for Hong Kong, and train them to become changemakers and solve current social issues with innovative ideas.
In addition to conventional lectures, GE courses also arrange for students to visit different service organisations and encourage them to develop innovative projects. Some of the student projects include a mobile app called “My Block” that can save on consumption by enabling residents in the same building to loan devices and materials to each other. Another app called “i-Receipt” can save on paper by recording various receipts on mobile phones.
The courses will also invite experts from social enterprises, social welfare sector and business sector to offer comments on student projects. Professor Linda Wong Lai Yeuk-lin, Professor in CityU’s Department of Public Policy, indicated that the long-term goal is to convert students’ ideas into a real benefit for society by launching the projects onto the market.
“Issues in the world are getting more and more complex, and cannot be solved by the knowledge of one single discipline. That’s why our GE courses help students to integrate their knowledge learned from different disciplines and apply it to deal with the problems in today’s world,” Professor Wong said.
Project Flame is a cross-discipline initiative at CityU that promotes social innovation and service leadership which enables students to develop leadership, social innovation and entrepreneurship through academic development and knowledge transfer. The Project exemplifies the essence of CityU’s Discovery-enriched Curriculum.