09 Nov 2018
Blind-friendly smartwatch startup teams up with international non-profit
Today, we’re proud to announce that Blindsight, Inc. has officially partnered with the CNIB Foundation to accelerate the development, testing, and distribution of our novel smartwatch for the blind.
For the 285 million visually impaired individuals across the world, lack of accessibility is a real and pressing problem. With our cutting-edge technology and CNIB’s wide-ranging network, however, we are confident that we can change this reality for the better.
CNIB is a Canadian non-profit organization that is a global leader in delivering services to individuals who are blind and visually impaired. For the past hundred years, CNIB’s mission has been “to change what [it] means to be blind through innovative programs and powerful advocacy.”
Here at Blindsight, our goal has always been to leverage new technologies to assist and empower the visually impaired. Because of this, we’re especially excited to partner with an organization whose values align so closely with our own.
Through this partnership, our company objective is to accelerate progress towards a market-ready prototype. We’ve spent the past several months working on our smartwatch, and I’m very excited to finally start getting the product into the hands (and onto the wrists) of users for testing and evaluation. As we reach the distribution stage in the not-so-distant future, you can expect to see our smartwatch rolling onto the shelves of CNIB’s 50+ stores throughout Canada.
I have high hopes for what’s next for Blindsight, and I’m looking forward to making our vision of self-empowerment a reality.
Until next time,
P.S. Be sure to check out our website redesign and follow us on Facebook!
17 Sep 2018
Sorry for the lack of communication. We’ve been super busy making our latest iterations on the project. As you may or may not have known, we’ve just started our freshmen year at college, and we’ve already attracted the interests of a couple professors at UC Berkeley and MIT! It’s been a long 3 months since we conceptualized this project, but it’s already grown to so much more than just a high school engineering project. Here, I’ll prove it. Just take a look at our summer of progress!
China-US Young Maker Competition
On the 13th to 18th of August, we participated in the China-US Young Maker Competition. But the preparation for the competition really began the week after our senior year ended.
It was clear from the beginning of the summer that we struggled with our hardware design and team communication. Some additions we made to our hardware team didn’t pan out. When we submitted, our project was far from ready. It was ugly. It lacked a case and there were exposed wires everywhere. It seemed like a complete downgrade from our MK1 prototype. But our software stack was strong. I knew we were going to need more functionality to win the semi-finalist prize so I added Jesse Liang and Aaron Huang into our team. They’re responsible for our iOS and Android applications. We implemented many new machine learning features and expanded Christy’s limited skillset. Somehow, we were chosen as one of the 10 semi-finalists for the US team despite our struggles.
In the timeline of a few weeks, we made adjustments to our team and cleaned up our project to prepare for the finals. When we arrived in China, I thought we were in great shape. The competition even put together a documentary film crew to film a select few teams. We were one of them! The first day was fun. We got to take a lift to the Great Wall and toboggan down! Walking on the Great Wall was less fun though. I almost died three times, slipping on the wet and mossy brick floor. After the Great Wall, we ate peking duck at one of the famous tourist restaurants in Beijing. In my opinion, it wasn’t that good. I prefer Southern food over Northern food.
The rest of the week was very different. The organizers set up a 24-hour hackathon for participants to make last minute changes. We just needed a better case. Jesse and I wanted to abide by the maxim: don’t fix it if it ain’t broke. Especially in Beijing, we would not have the parts or tools to fix damages. Unfortunately, we did not abide by the maxim and ended up swapping between 4 different cases. After many swaps, some of our wires broke. The capacitive touch sensor failed. The OLED failed. A bunch of motors also failed. We spent the hackathon fixing what shouldn’t have been broken instead of preparing for the presentation and demo. Unfortunately, we did not make it into the next round of judging.
However, this opened up an opportunity to explore Beijing! We took the metro to the mega malls where we ate street food and bought cheap Nike shoes. If you plan on visiting Beijing, I recommend the malls at Wangfujing. They are amazing. While at these malls, we found out we won a semi-finalist prize for the 2018 TechCrunch Disrupt SF Hackathon. Soon after, we found we had also won the HERE Mobility SDK prize and the Visa API prize!
TechCrunch Disrupt SF
TechCrunch was a surreal experience. I remember seeing TechCrunch on HBO’s Silicon Valley. I never thought I would get the chance to pitch to attendees there. We tried out the latest demos in tech. We watched innovators talk on the Main Stage. And, most importantly, we got a ton of free swag!
Jaimie benefited most from the conference. She took about 3+ full bags of swag home each day.
Seeing all the semi-finalists at TechCrunch was a humbling experience. All of their projects were technologically advanced and used some sort of machine learning algorithm. At the end of the conference, Visa and HERE Mobility handed us a giant prepaid card and a giant check!
And now, we’re moving into our dorms at UC Berkeley, Boston University, UC San Diego, and the University of Washington, preparing for the next step of our lives. But that doesn’t mean that progress for blindsight is over! We’re looking into miniaturizing the device and improving recognition speeds significantly over the fall semester/quarter. We also started the process of creating an incorporation and we started looking for investor funding. The adventure is far from over, and if you’d like to stay up to date with our infrequent posts, please sign up for our mailing list!
I want to dedicate this blog post to our high school engineering teachers. Thanks, Ms. Chou, Mr. Kaehms, Mr. Brown, Mr. Uken, and Ms. Lewis! We couldn’t have made it without you all.
Until next time,
Co-founder and a Terrible Writer