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National Winner

WatVision

WatVision is a device that allows any visually impaired person to use any touch screen.

  • The WatVision product: allowing visually impaired people to use touch screens

  • Learn more about the WatVision system, what problem it solves, and how it works.

    Learn more about the WatVision system, what problem it solves, and how it works.

  • The WatVision team accepting the General Motors Innovation Award

  • The Ring version of the WatVision Product

  • The WatVision team composed of 6 Mechatronics Engineering students

  • The glove version of the WatVision Product

What it does

WatVision allows a visually impaired person to use any touch screen. Crucial services are being replaced with touch screens, which aren't accessible. This device allows you to use any touch screen without needing to see the screen elements.


Your inspiration

Each team member was very interested in working on a project that involved accessibility. We started looking into how we could solve some of the many unique problems for visually impaired people. We stumbled upon someone's blog, where they had written about how annoyed they were that their office had a new coffee maker that used a touch screen. They complained that since they couldn't see the buttons, or feel them, it was impossible to use and now they had to go without coffee. As a team we realized we could resolve that issue to help that person, and many others with the ever increasing problem of being unable to use touch screens.


How it works

The WatVision system includes an app, and a ring that you wear on your finger. You run the app and point the phone camera at the touch screen you wish to interact with. The app will tell you when it's seen and understood the screen. After that, you can move the finger wearing the ring around the screen and it will read out to you whatever word is underneath your finger. The main advantage of the ring design, is it's very cheap to produce (under 2 $CAD!) However, for a better user experience the team also designed a glove that is able to be tracked as well. The glove contains a bluetooth sensor, and a motor which gives feedback in the form of vibrations at the user's fingertip. This allows the user to actually 'feel' where the buttons on the screen are, as the glove will use vibrations to indicate how far or close to a button you are.


Design process

We started the design in September 2017. The first steps involved a lot of brain storming on how we could get a reliable picture of the screen, identify where someone was pointing, and make sure they could press the buttons on the screen accurately. It was certainly a challenge! Luckily we had some amazing contacts who were visually impaired. We worked closely with them to create the design, and they were integral to our designs as they pointed out the many different ways a visually impaired user would interact with our design, and some of our assumptions. We started developing some early prototypes and testing out algorithms to make sure the project was feasible, and once we were sure our preliminary design would meet our requirements we started full prototype production in January 2018. Half of our team developed the software and application for the system, while the other half developed the hardware. Our first prototype was finished in March 2018, and we were very pleased to see that someone who was blind was able to fully interact with a touch screen using it with minimal training, and someone who was visually impaired could interact with a touch screen with no training required. Overall it was a success!


How it is different

Our design is incredibly unique in the fact that it gives the user autonomy. Accessible devices' worth are often measured in what level of help you need from someone else, or your level of autonomy while using that device. If a visually impaired person needs to use a touch screen (such as a mall directory, or ordering food) they can only use it by asking someone to help them. WatVision allows them to use it entirely on their own. This is a major plus compared to any alternative, as independence was one of our main goals when designing this product. Additionally, our device will work on any touch screen. The manufacturer does not need to add code to make their screen compatible with our system. We use image processing techniques to understand the screen content, and so it will automatically work with any existing touch screen, no additional development from the manufacturer required!


Future plans

Currently we are in the process of patenting our system, and from there we will be talking to companies to discuss if they would be able to integrate our system into their products. We would love to see this system in place at airports, grocery self checkouts, ATMs, etc. Additionally, we would also like to make the product available for anyone to download and use.


Awards

We have won two awards when we presented at the University of Waterloo Mechatronics Engineering Symposium: The General Motors Innovation Award and 2nd Place in Alumni People's Choice Award


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