June 11, 2021

Medical student’s smartphone app for the blind makes College of Engineering competition finals

Jessica Tan is a second-year medical student at the School of Medicine.

A smartphone app that helps blind and visually impaired users better navigate their surroundings in public, designed by a School of Medicine student, is one of five finalists in the Wayne State University College of Engineering’s Mobility for All competition. The finalists are competing for the top prize of $10,000 to fund their innovations.

A screenshot shows a prototype of the RecognEYES smartphone app in action.

Jessica Tan, a second-year medical student, is developing the app with Matthew Chea, a software engineer.

While the user scans the room using their camera, RecognEyes detects objects of interest like doors, and uses binaural sound localization and distance callouts to guide users to the objects. To use RecognEyes, the user needs only a pair of headphones and a smartphone.

“The goal of RecognEyes is to help visually-impaired individuals navigate with more confidence when leaving their homes. It aims to reduce their dependence on others, encourage exploration and improve their physical safety while navigating,” Tan said.

Tan attended classes held for the blind and visually impaired at the Disability Network Wayne County community organization to learn more about the stigma experienced by blind and visually-impaired community members, and their dependence on others.

“My conversations with this group really inspired the idea for the app and made me realize that a navigation aid like RecognEyes can make a really large impact on their quality of life. Their feedback has been really valuable, and we plan to continue working with them to develop the app,” she said.

The framework of the app and an initial testing phase have been completed. Tan is working to expand features and conduct beta testing before publishing to app stores.

Learn more about the project at https://www.mobilityforall.world/phase-ii-teams/team-1

The project was initially named a top nine winner in the competition’s first round. The five finalists must deliver proposals for scaling their proposed solutions for mobility challenges such as food access, transportation and, in Tan’s case, accessibility for people with disabilities, in metropolitan Detroit. Each team received $5,000 prizes from the Wayne Mobility Initiative, an interdisciplinary group formed in February 2020 to promote collaboration and innovation on mobility, including research, education and community engagement, at the university. Teams are comprised of students, faculty and researchers from schools and colleges across Wayne State.

Final presentations will be given, and a winner chosen, in October, said competition committee Chair Weisong Shi, Ph.D., professor of computer science in the College of Engineering.

Are you blind or visually impaired, or know someone who is? To participate in beta testing, contact Jessica.tan@med.wayne.edu for more information. Monetary compensation will be given to qualified participants.


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