Classy Cyborgs Innovation Story
This article was originally written and submitted as part of a Canada 150 Project, the Innovation Storybook, to crowdsource stories of Canadian innovation with partners across Canada. The content has since been migrated to Ingenium’s Channel, a digital hub featuring curated content related to science, technology and innovation.
My name is James Andrade, one of 10 young innovators ages 13-15 called the Classy Cyborgs who are on a mission to help improve Braille literacy for visually impaired children. In 2014, we began as a FIRST LEGOTM League robotics team from our school in Aurora, Ontario.
FIRST LEGOTM League challenges children around the world to solve real world problems through innovation. We discovered that 90% of the blind population cannot read Braille, 65% drop out of high school and 75% are unemployed. Access to Braille is limited as there are so few Braille teachers and current tools are outdated (flashcards and wooden blocks). Although there are many popular computer learning products on the market for sighted children, none of these are accessible for the visually impaired.
We are developing the Treasure Box Braille Learning System which pairs computer software with an external Brailler that teaches the Braille alphabet and basic math. Our first hardware prototype was made out of LEGOTM. Today we have multiple prototypes made from Arduino and refreshable Braille technology. Also, we gamified the experience by creating a toy treasure box that dispenses real rewards to give blind children a fun and tactile experience when they achieve learning levels in the computer game.
Over the past 2 years, we’ve been lucky to have so many mentors helping us including the CNIB, Perkins School for the Blind, ventureLAB, Innovation York, Braille teachers, engineers, and even a NASA scientist.
Most importantly, we are thankful for the support of the Canadian Scholarship Trust Foundation’s Inspired Minds Learning Project that has provided over $60,000 in funding toward the development of our product. This funding has enabled us to collaborate with Prof. Baljko and colleagues at the Lassonde School of Engineering at York University to develop hardware and software for our platform, develop a system to evaluate our technology and develop authoring software that will allow others to create their own teaching materials for the system.
In the future, we want to expand our platform to teach Braille music, advanced math, and many other school subjects and in multiple languages. Someday we hope that blind children around the world will benefit from our technology.
For more information please go to www.classycyborgs.org; for more information about The Canadian Scholarship Trust Foundation visit www.cst.org; and for more information about FIRST LEGOTM League, please visit www.firstroboticscanada.org.