Thursday, 21 Feb 2019

Students from this Gurugram school designed an automated walking stick and self help shoes for blind school students

Hxls, Blind school, visually impaired, design, product, innovation,

Students from HXLS school designed three innovative devices to help out their visually impaired peers studying at a blind school.

At a time when most Indian schools follow the rote-learning route and ascribe more intelligence or value to a student who gets more marks in an exam, this Guugram-based school has an innovative learning practice that pushes its students to solve real-world problems using the skills they have.

Heritage Xperiential Learning School (HXLS) holds ‘Genius Hours’ in its classrooms where students work through rapid-prototyping and design challenges.

This year, students created a few incredible devices for visually impaired students of a blind school that could transform their lives.

“My experience was unexpected. Meeting the visually impaired made me realize that just bonding with them, talking to them and teaching them made them very happy. I got a lot of warmth and help from them while working on the project which made me feel like I was making a difference,” says Class 8 student from HXLS, Ananya Sharma.

Design team of HXLS school.

‘Genius Hours’ are part of the curriculum

Students at HXLS are encouraged to research on real world problems and develop working prototypes of the solutions proposed, using latest tech such as 3D printing, laser-cutting, wearable tech etc.

These design challenges held during class do not occur in isolation but are actually sewn into the expeditionary curriculum they are integrated into the mainstream curricula such as in Science, Arts, English etc.

This process ensures that along with informational content, students are given an opportunity to convert the content knowledge learned at school into actionable outcomes which can help the world. For example, in a biology class, students were asked to create digital solutions for problems of wellness for their parents.

In junior classes the design challenges take the form of ‘Wonder Hours’, in middle years they are known as ‘Genius Hours’ and in senior classes students enrol into ‘Build Your Future’ elective as a work experience option.

As part of this elective, students work on year-long projects to understand emerging technology trends and ways to use it to address social issues.

All of this is part of the school’s primary goal to foster Maker-Centered learning and bring out innovations by students that are solutions to real world challenges, low cost and scalable.

What is Maker-Centred Learning?

“Maker-Centred pedagogy is an important extension of our Experiential Learning curriculum. The curriculum emphasises on design thinking where students get to apply conceptual knowledge they absorb in classrooms, to solve real world problems,” says Prerna Shridhar M, Head Middle Programme, Heritage Xperiential Learning School, in a conversation with India Today Education.

“This leads to a holistic experience that is related to the world around them,” she adds.

Maker-Centred Learning is one of the best practices for schools today. This kind of learning practice is structured around three main factors:

  • Maker Empowerment: What kind of a learning process can encourage and empower students to understand their own creative confidence and believe they can be change-makers?
  • Maker Skills: How can educational environments be enhanced to empower the innovation skills of students through development of student-specific knowledge and skills (eg STEAM) and more maker-based knowledge and skills (eg learning to code or how to use a soldering iron to fix a circuit)
  • Maker Design: How can students be empowered to create products using human-centred design approaches?

HXLS students observing the blind school students.

Project Saksham and collaboration with blind school students

Project Saksham was initiated a few years back by HXLS. Each year, the prototypes of the innovations were passed on by the senior students to the new batch through peer mentoring.

This year, students of classes 8, 9, 10 and 11 collaborated with a school for the blind to create three innovative products that help address day to day issues faced by visually impaired students.

They interviewed the students of the Bharat Blind Technical Welfare Society and Captain Chandan Lal Special Middle School for Blind to understand their issues with mobility, education and social stigma.

“When I saw the visually impaired students building their future and working with utmost diligence, even with visual difficulties, I knew that I had to be part of this endeavour and try to do my part for the society,” said Harshikaa Agrawal, a class 8 student of HXLS.

The students interviewed and spent time with the visually challenged students from the blind school to understand their issues with mobility, education and social stigma.

Then they brainstormed solutions and developing prototypes.

Feedback was taken from students and teachers at the blind school throughout the development process of the prototypes.

After the year-long collaboration, the prototypes of the devices created by the HXLS students were taken to the blind school for feedback which was incorporated into designing the final devices.

An HXLS student developing a prototype.

Innovative products created for visually impaired students:

Automated walking stick

This is a ‘smart’ walking stick that works as a proximity detector for the visually impaired. The stick alerts the user to obstructions on the way and thereby reduces accidents.

The stick also provides alerts through vibrations rather than sound to enable for better response from the user.

“All of the tasks that are performed by the visually impaired require a great deal of dedication and reliance on the other major human senses. So why not contribute to making things easier, by enabling them to do more, to making life a little more comfortable for them? This is the philosophy that pushed me to create the walking stick,” says Jivitesh Singh Kamboj, a class 12 student from HXLS, who worked on this device.

The student team used Arduino to make the stick work. Arduino is an open-source electronics platform based on easy-to-use hardware and software. Arduino boards are able to read inputs light on a sensor, a finger on a button, hurdle in front etc.

The HC-SR04 ultrasonic sensor uses SONAR to determine the distance of an object just like the bats do. The stick also has a buzzer which beeps and alerts the user to obstacles. 3D printed technology was used to encase the electronic parts and protect them from heat and water.

Visually impaired students from the blind school students testing the automated walking stick

“There are very few people in the world who would hold our hand and direct the way for us, so we really needed something that could make us independent. Now I can use the automated walking stick created by HXLS students not just in college, but also while going to the mall,” says Himanshu, a college student from the Bharat Blind Technical Welfare Society.

Himanshu gave his thanks for another bit of assistance levelled out by the HXLS students, something that is easy to make but often ignored by the able-bodied creating audiobooks for the course materials of the students at the blind school.

3D printed Braille cards

The 3D printed Braille cards were created to address the scarcity of user-friendly educational resources available for the visually impaired in the market.

The HXLS students sought solutions that were scalable and could be produced at a low cost.

The students worked with teachers of the blind school to find solutions that would explain abstract concepts to the students of the blind school. Based on their discussions, they decided to work on ‘Phases of the Moon’ and ‘Animal Shapes’ for the students. The result was a set of 3D printed braille cards.

Braille animal book

The prototype of these Braille cards was designed to communicate the shape of moon phases and various animals via touch.

The students first designed the 3D books and the content in the software Google Sketch Up and Fusion 360 to make the layout of the books.

They incorporated Braille points in the design. This design was then fed into the 3D printer and the books were 3D printed. The files were tested several times before the actual prints were made by making small demo prints.

‘Help Me’ shoes

Realising the difficulty faced by visually impaired people while walking unaccompanied, HXLS students created a pair of shoes that would indicate obstructions with the help of an alarm.

The prototype also has sensors that help the user to navigate easily.

“The first time that I visited the blind school, I saw a visually impaired man trying to make his way down the stairs, without any aid. This sight motivated me to work with them and use technology in a better way to assist society,” says Kabeer Kishore, a class 12 student from HXLS.

Prototype of the Help Me shoes.

Arduino, an open-source electronics platform, was used to make the shoes. Similar to the technology in the walking stick, ultrasonic sensors were incorporated for detecting the distance and motors were used to give movement to the sensors to detect the best way to guide the person using it.

The shoes are under testing phase and in the coming months the team intends to add an SOS feature using the GSM module of Arduino which will help the person to directly send an SOS alert to the loved one whose phone number will be saved in it.

They also plan to use the touch sensor to make it more user-friendly.

Testing the Help me shoes.

How did the products go from idea to completion?

HXLS students are assisted by their teachers to bring their ideas into completion.

“It was a wonderful experience working on the project. The students’ passion for finding practical and implementable solutions for the people they were working with resulted in the innovative prototypes we have today. It has been a valuable learning experience for both our students and the students of the blind schools,” says Simar Kaur, a teacher at HXLS.

The projects use a kind of human-centred design which means that before the product is designed, a bond must be developed with the user.

The problem is first noted in detail, then solutions are brainstormed, a prototype for a physical product is formed, and then it is taken back to the user for feedback. The cycle continues till a product of user satisfaction is developed.

“Innovations such as the prototypes developed in the Saksham project are a result of the maker-mindset we drive in our students,” says Noora Noushad, Head of Design and Technology, Xperiential Learning Systems.

“The design challenges we do with students incorporate components of engineering, rapid prototyping, design thinking and core tenets of failing forward while introducing learners to emerging tools and technologies pertinent to the 21st century thus transforming them into creators of technology rather than mere consumers,” Noushad adds.

Kaur and Noushad handhold the students from start to finish and also help in improving the finished products.

What are the future prospects of these student innovations?

Going from final product to large-scale production is not an easy process. The students are working on making the products more user-friendly and adding more features.