TechBridgeWorld showcases innovations

A child tries out a demo of software created by TechBridgeWorld. Last Thursday, TechBridgeWorld demonstrated some of the projects it has been invovled with. A child tries out a demo of software created by TechBridgeWorld. Last Thursday, TechBridgeWorld demonstrated some of the projects it has been invovled with.

On Oct. 29, the Perlis Atrium in Newell-Simon Hall, where TechBridgeWorld Interactive took place, had an almost festive atmosphere about it.

Everywhere there were people of all ages — there were even some tech-savvy toddlers running around. Tables set up across the atrium had students explaining the various projects that TechBridgeWorld undertook.
TechBridgeWorld is a program at Carnegie Mellon University in which students use technology to help underdeveloped countries.
This year marked their fifth year of activity, and it also marked the first year an internship was open for Carnegie Mellon students.
Several of the students who were part of the internship, known as Innovative Student Technology ExPerience (iSTEP), explained their many innovations that they put to use in countries like Tanzania and Ghana. Several video and slide show presentations helped explain the goals of iSTEP.

Bradley Hall, a senior in mechanical engineering who was part of iSTEP, helped introduce new cell phone technologies to social workers in Tanzania. “These phones were used for collecting data from the field and aggregating it,” Hall explained. The social workers would keep track of the country’s demographics, including the number of impoverished children in their area, and send the data to a major city in Tanzania, Dar es Salaam, where it would be inserted into a government database. The internship will once again be available in the summer of 2010, working to improve the technology available and to collaborate with other organizations and schools. Hall was also part of a team that developed the Electronic Braille Tutor, a device that would assist the blind population in learning written braille. Using an electronic stylus pen and a series of cells, the student could choose a variety of learning activities, from letter recognition to full-fledged free spelling of words.

The audio feature of the Braille Tutor is especially useful. In Tanzania, many teachers of blind students are blind themselves, and if the audio is there to correct any mistakes, it saves the teacher from having to rewrite the students’ work themselves. Another important piece of technology on display was the Literacy Cell Phone game. Directed toward primary school students in Tanzania, it was a game that tested grammar that could be downloaded onto a cell phone.

Its subjects, however, extended far beyond proper sentence syntax. One test run yielded questions about soccer and the Swahili language, and a correct answer resulted in a graphic of a soccer player scoring a goal appearing on the screen. Along with such displays of innovative technology, there was even an online interactive quiz on the countries involved in TechBridgeWorld and computer facts in general. M. Bernardine Dias, the creator and director of TechBridgeWorld, said she based her mission for this project on her childhood in Sri Lanka.

“I was fascinated by the technology, but I realized that the technology coming in wasn’t able to fit into our culture.” This became the goal for TechBridgeWorld as a whole: technology that could be adapted to a specific culture. “The goal of a project changes depending on what the community needs,” said Beatrice Dias, a Ph.D. student in engineering and public policy, who is also a part of TechBridgeWorld.