Tech in T.O. Next Generation: 16-year-old creates device to help people with visual impairments

Click to play video: '16-year-old creates device meant to help people with visually impairments'
16-year-old creates device meant to help people with visually impairments
WATCH: Riya Karumanchi says it was personal connections that inspired her to update an antiquated technology, and her hope is to change the lives of people living with a visual impairment – Oct 28, 2019

This is the 10th instalment of a 10-part series on Toronto’s technology community

Riya Karumanchi remembers being shocked one afternoon while sitting at her friend’s house watching her grandmother, who is visually impaired, trying to move around the house with difficulty.

“She was bumping into a lot of things when trying to get around and she was telling me that the device that she was using was literally just a stick,” she said.

“And it’s never been updated.”

Karumanchi went home that evening and immediately began to research, and she discovered the device was created in 1921 and had never been adapted or changed.

“It was just so baffling to me to find that nobody invented and innovated on something so traditional. And it’s been like that for so long,” Karumanchi said.

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“I think because the problem was so close to me, I was seeing a lot of people around me and my friends struggling a little and having to use other people to get around in order to see, how maybe I could use my knowledge and my skills to come up with a solution.”

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Over several months, Karumanchi developed SmartCane, a white cane with technology that helps those people using it get around.

Click to play video: 'Watch: extended interview with Riya Karumanchi'
Watch: extended interview with Riya Karumanchi

The cane has sensors that help detect obstacles in front of someone.

“It’s a technologically enhanced version of the white cane with optic detection so it vibrates if anything is in front of the person from knee to head level, GPS integration to help direct a person to their destination by using varying vibrations and audio feedback and also computer vision to describe a person’s surroundings,” Karumanchi said.

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Since developing the device, Karumanchi said she has had people use the device, and her hope is to see it used across North America.

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“I have gotten some of my friends to try it and some people in the community and I definitely hope that it gets in the market in the soon and helps a lot of people around the world, starting in Canada and after that expanding,” she said.

Karumanchi is a student at the Knowledge Society, an innovation program meant to prepare young people who have interests in the tech field.

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“[It] exposed me to an entirely new world of things that I didn’t even know existed, and I thought it was really interesting because all of these really amazing things are coming out and that’s great, but all these great things can solve all of the world’s most important problems,” she said.

“I think that really sparked my interest.”

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