December 9, 2021

School of Medicine student’s app idea wins $10,000 top prize in College of Engineering’s inaugural Mobility for All competition

Jessica Tan

A smartphone application aiming to improve quality of life for the blind and visually impaired population was deemed the winning project of the year-long Mobility for All competition at Wayne State University.

A group led by Jessica Tan, a second-year medical student in the Wayne State School of Medicine, received $10,000 from the Wayne Mobility Initiative, or WMI, an interdisciplinary group that promotes collaboration and innovation across the university on mobility issues, including research, education and community engagement.

RecognEyes is an app that can help users — including the nearly 58,000 blind and visually impaired individuals living in Wayne County — better navigate their surroundings by using an augmented reality model that integrates object detection and binaural sound. While users scan the room using their camera, RecognEyes detects objects of interest such as doors and uses binaural sound localization and distance callouts to guide the user to that object. To use RecognEyes, the user needs only a pair of headphones and a smartphone.

“We believe that RecognEyes has the potential to make a significant impact on BVI users’ quality of life, not only in Detroit but for everyone who has access to a smartphone,” Tan said. “After hearing firsthand accounts of the stigma experienced by blind and visually impaired community members and their dependence on others, we realized the need for a navigational aid like RecognEyes, where even a small sense of gained independence can make a difference.”

Tan developed the app with Matthew Chea, a software engineer. She 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.

The WMI steering committee also elected to give $5,000 in support of the runners-up, an industrial design team from the Department of Art and Art History led by Senior Lecturer Siobhan Gregory. Her group rekindled a past collaboration with Deeply Rooted Produce, a mobile grocery service that works with local urban farmers to reach underserved communities. In 2019, students created conceptual designs for a food truck, a mobile market delivery truck, a mobile educational display, and a sustainably designed welcome center and community kitchen.

The work today is centered on strengthening the business plan of owner Dazmonique Carr by developing a digital app, creating printed materials and other low-tech tools, and gathering data from interviews and focus groups to understand consumer preferences and shopping behaviors. The goal is to expand DRP’s user base and scope of service.

Since Mobility for All launched in October 2020, teams primarily comprised of students, faculty and researchers from schools and colleges across Wayne State University worked to deliver proposals for scaling their solutions for mobility challenges in metropolitan Detroit. The field was narrowed to nine semifinalist teams in February, and subsequently to five final teams in May.

“Leveraging mobility technologies to address the real problems faced by the community was the most important principle when we launched the competition,” said Weisong Shi, chair of the WMI steering committee and professor of Computer Science in the College of Engineering. “The committee was very excited to see all five teams in the final stage addressing community challenges, including accessibility for people with disabilities, food insecurity and public transit infrastructure. The outcome of the competition is fantastic and has demonstrated the innovative ways by which our students, faculty and alumni want to change the world.”

Visit mobilityforall.world to learn more about the competition.

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