Teen Inventors Score Win with Assistive Technology

New assistive technology developed by (clockwise from top left) Raffu Khondaker, Irfan Nafi, Pranav Ravella, and Eugene Choi won first place in the Virginia 8th Congressional District 2020 Congressional App Challenge.

The 2021 Congressional App Challenge (CAC) kicks off on June 24 and there is still time to get involved. Designed to inspire middle- and high-school students to pursue careers in computer science, the CAC is sponsored in each Congressional district by its member of the House of Representatives.

Doug Goist, NIB program manager, workforce development, spoke with four 16-year-old students — Raffu Khondaker, Irfan Nafi, Pranav Ravella, and Eugene Choi — who in 2020 were the first place winners of the Virginia 8th Congressional District 2020 Congressional App Challenge for their affordable assistive technology app. The young inventors represent Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County, Virginia, near NIB headquarters.

Real life experience inspired the students, mentored by faculty advisor Sean Burke, to enter the 2020 contest. Two years ago, Ravella began investigating technology for his cousin, who is blind. The friends decided to develop an app for people who are blind because Ravella didn’t see his cousin using adaptive devices.

Interviewing members of the visually impaired community, including an avid dancer and trapeze artist who is blind and who they consider a co-designer, they prototyped Atheia, a wearable battery-powered haptic glove equipped with camera sensors that allow users to point to objects in their surroundings and hear an announcement of what the object is.

“We wanted to make sure the voices of the visually impaired community were heard when developing the product,” says Choi.

“Hearing our co-designer’s enthusiasm toward our design helped us understand that there was a clear need for such a project and that current solutions did not address their specific use cases,” adds Nafi.

“Computer Vision has made some major progress in the past decade,” explains Khondaker. “We’re applying those developments to assistive technology, at a price that won’t break the bank.”

Ravella, whose cousin inspired Atheia, says they intentionally designed the glove to encourage other young inventors.

“By open-sourcing our project, we hope to inspire other young developers to utilize their technical skills to contribute to their community,” he said.“We plan on continuing our journey in electronics and computer science, so that we can make a meaningful impact on lives,” the group said in a statement. “In college we plan on furthering our knowledge in artificial intelligence.”“I am inspired by these brilliant young people who saw an opportunity to use their skills to assist the visually impaired community with the Atheia glove,” says Congressman Don Beyer, who represents Virginia’s 8th Congressional District. “Even after submitting their project to the Congressional App Challenge, they continued to improve on their work and showcased their updates at our virtual reception, which shows how committed they are to using technology to help people.”

To learn more about the Congressional App Challenge, click here.