Canadian Dyson award winner announced
September 5, 2018
TORONTO – From grocery self-checkouts to bank ATMs, touch screens are increasingly becoming an integral part of daily life and are seemingly user-friendly. However, touch screens require the user to see the text, buttons and pictures, making them inaccessible to the visually impaired population, which accounts for approximately half a million people in Canada.
University of Waterloo mechatronics engineering graduates Craig Loewen and Lior Lustgarten set out to solve this problem with their invention, WatVision, earning them the top prize in the Canadian leg of the 2018 James Dyson Award.
WatVision combines three parts: a smartphone app, industry standard detection markers placed on each corner of a touchscreen and a ring worn on the users’ finger. The app first employs the smartphone’s camera to identify the position of the touch screen by locating the four detection markers that act as screen boundaries.
It then takes an image of the touch screen, which is sent to Google Cloud and downloaded onto the phone. Once the user points to a button on the touch screen with the ring wearing finger, the app locates the ring and uses the downloaded image to read the text out loud, allowing the user to select the correct action and independently use the touch screen service.
For Loewen, Lustgarten and the WatVision team, accessibility issues were top of mind when researching ideas for their fourth-year university engineering project. A blog post about how a visually impaired person couldn’t use their new office touch screen coffee machine inspired the team to design something that truly makes a difference for this community.
Lior Lustgarten, team leader, WatVision said: “Once we realized how much we used touch screens on a daily basis and how it would not only affect visually impaired people, but the aging population, we knew we could make a large impact on an underdeveloped market. After interviewing members of this community, it was apparent that this was an overlooked problem that needed a solution.”
Following the ideation of the design, it took eight months and six iterative software designs to fully develop WatVision as the team prioritized making the design natural and user-friendly for visually impaired people. Once the project was complete, the team decided to make WatVision open source under the MIT license and allow access for others to make improvements and upgrades.
Craig Loewen, team leader, WatVision said: “We are planning to continue working on WatVision as we move into our new careers after graduation. With the design being open source, we are hoping it will attract the attention of other engineers and people in technology who care about the same accessibility issues and can help improve the design.”
The team hopes to integrate images and colours into the next version of WatVision and for users to navigate the touch screen without wearing a ring. They will use the $3,000 James Dyson Award prize money to maintain server access subscriptions and computing time.
Lior added: “We want our work to be useful to the people who live the need and hope WatVision becomes a valuable tool that can help change someone’s life.”
WatVision and the two national runners up, Printem and Revertome, will move onto the next stage of the James Dyson Award where a panel of Dyson engineers will select a top 20.
About the James Dyson Award
The James Dyson Award runs in 27 countries. The contest is open to university level students (and recent graduates) studying product design, industrial design and engineering. The award encourages ideas that challenge convention, lean engineering – less is more, and design with the environment in mind. The best inventions are simple and practical yet provide a solution to a real-world problem. A national winner is selected for every country the award runs in, before going through to the final phase where the international winner is chosen by James Dyson. The award is run by the James Dyson Foundation, a registered charity set up in 2002 which exists to inspire and support the next generation of engineers. The international prize is $50,000 for the student and $8,500 for the student’s university department. Up to two International Runners-up win $8,500 each. National award winners gain $3,000. International winner and finalists announced: November 15, 2018.
Who can enter the James Dyson Award?
Any university level student of product design, industrial design or engineering, or graduate within four years of graduation, who is studying or studied in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, UAE, UK, and USA. For more information and regular updates on the progress of the James Dyson Award, follow the James Dyson Foundation on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.