TechBridgeWorld hosts biennial event

TechBridgeWorld, a research group started from within the Robotics Institute, hosted an event that showcased their mission and their research.   (credit: Abhinav Gautam/) TechBridgeWorld, a research group started from within the Robotics Institute, hosted an event that showcased their mission and their research. (credit: Abhinav Gautam/)

While many of us curse in frustration when our sleek, advanced laptops occasionally crash or when our touchscreen smartphones sometimes lose signal, there are people in developing countries and individuals with disabilities that do not even have the luxury of the technology we take for granted. While there are many organizations with goals to provide aid and relief to communities in need, Carnegie Mellon is tackling this global issue in a unique way: through technology.

TechBridgeWorld — a research group founded by associate research professor at the Robotics Institute M. Bernardine Dias — aims to use innovative technology to create solutions for sustainable development. “We build partnerships with underserved communities in the U.S. and around the world to create culturally appropriate technology that adheres to each community’s vision of progress, and to inspire and train future researchers and technologists,” said Ermine Teves, TechBridgeWorld project assistant, in an email.

To celebrate their 10-year anniversary, the research group hosted a biennial TechBridgeWorld Interactive last Thursday in the Newell-Simon Hall Perlis Atrium. The event raised awareness of global development needs and showcased TechBridgeWorld’s research to the campus community. Sponsors for the event included the Robotics Institute, Diyunu Consulting, LLC, the President’s Office, the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs, the School of Computer Science, the Heinz School, and Google.

Aptly named, TechBridgeWorld Interactive was designed so that participants could actively learn about TechBridgeWorld’s mission through different games and challenges.

TechBridgeWorld Interactive focused on two specific themes: navigation for the visually impaired, and literacy. The theme of navigation for the visually impaired was explored through different activities and poster presentations along the left side of the Perlis Atrium, while the theme of literacy was demonstrated through another row of presentations along the right side of the Perlis Atrium.

The first challenge for the theme of visual impairment required participants to wear goggles that simulated the sight of an individual who is completely blind in the right eye and partially blind in the left eye. Another visual impairment challenge involved attempting to give directions to a blind person. Participants were given the map of a hotel and had to describe how to get from the entrance to a specific room in the hotel as if they were giving directions to someone who was blind. This challenge made it evident that simply telling someone who is visually impaired to turn left or right is insufficient; successful navigation requires describing nearby familiar sounds or smells, or a specific number of steps to take.

Also on the left side of the room was a solution to aiding the visually impaired. The project was called Wrist Ranger and is the product of a Small Undergraduate Research Grant (SURG). The members of the research group were sophomore electrical and computer engineering and robotics double major Clayton Ritcher, sophomore electrical and computer engineering major Nora Shoemaker, and junior electrical and computer engineering major Vivek Nair. Their research advisor was Dias. According to their poster, the motivation of the project was “to find an effective way to provide the visually impaired with spatial feedback of their surroundings.” The device is essentially a wristband with sensors that can use haptic feedback to inform users of how close the wristband is to an object.

The right side of the Perlis Atrium included challenges and presentations for the issue of literacy. In the first challenge, participants had to watch videos in different languages, such as Arabic, Chinese, or Spanish. The purpose of this exercise was to give the participant a feeling of how confused one might feel while in a country that predominantly speaks an unfamiliar language. The second literacy challenge asked the participant to label the United States, Bangladesh, Uruguay, Ghana, Qatar, and Tanzania on a world map. These are all countries in which TechBridgeWorld has partners.

After these challenges were a number of poster presentations by the students of the course 15-239, Software Development for Social Good. “Last year, the course partnered with TechBridgeWorld and our existing projects to produce free and open-source software products of real and immediate value, from assisting the blind to teaching English to migrant workers,” Teves said.

Students in this course are given the task of creating educational games for audiences with specific types of needs. For example, sophomore computer science major Abdel Bourai, master’s student in mechanical engineering Reese Deng, junior computer science major Madeline Horowitz, and junior electrical and computer engineering major Erik Pintar created the game Dream Explorer for students of the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf. The team designed their game using the knowledge that the deaf students were especially perceptive to spatial distances. In their game, the player had to explore a planet while looking for flying bats and were asked educational questions whenever a bat was captured.

Another group, whose members were senior computer science majors Benjamin Choi and Isaac Lim and junior computer science majors Nivedita Chopra and Kechun Mao, is working with Reach Out To Asia (ROTA) to create a game for their Adult English Literacy program (RAEL). This game, called Jump!, was designed to teach English to migrant workers in Qatar and required the user to interact with different characters in the game by filling in the blanks for incomplete sentences using correct grammar. By answering these questions correctly, the user gains various power-ups such as speed or higher jumping abilities. All of the 15-239 projects presented at TechBridgeWorld Interactive are still prototypes.

TechBridgeWorld is grounded at a university that is a world leader in technology innovation and has partners all across the globe. With such a strong community behind it, TechBridgeWorld has the potential to revolutionize technologies for communities in need, such as developing countries or individuals with disabilities.