Two Trinity engineering graduates have won the Irish leg of the 2017 James Dyson Award for inventing a new software solution that helps people with intellectual disabilities navigate independently.
A major problem for many people with intellectual disabilities, such as Down Syndrome, is finding their way without assistance. It prevents a large number of people from being independent, even in adulthood. Most navigation tools are not appropriate for this user group due to their complicated interface.
waytoB is a smartphone and smartwatch solution, which allows the carer to pre-programme set routes, which users can follow easily and independently. This is possible due to the highly simplified and intuitive interface and turn-by-turn directions (arrows and audio) based on the user’s orientation.
Invented by graduates, Talita Holzer Saad (26) and Robbie Fryers (24), who are now research assistants in Trinity, the app also integrates walking instructions with public transport and allows the carer to live track the user’s location, heart rate and battery usage.
Robbie from Belfast and Talita, originally from Brazil, were first inspired to invent a product that would integrate people with intellectual disabilities into society as Engineering and Management undergraduates.
“We are passionate about aiding people who are currently excluded from activities in society to integrate seamlessly and to become more independent,” they commented.
Nine prototypes later, the pair are still developing the final product, which is being trialled with six individuals who have Down Syndrome in conjunction with their carers. The feedback is that the product could be ‘life-changing’.
Thirty seven year old Patrick O’Shea from Malahide has mild to moderate Down Syndrome and has been trialling the product on his smartwatch since the beginning of 2017. His father Pat says Patrick would not be able to navigate certain routes without it.
“Patrick is already reasonably independent and this app is really helpful in supporting this and making life easier. For example he already saves about 15 minutes to a regular local destination by using the app to take a shorter but trickier route.”
“It will also be of major benefit when he goes on his weekly bus trip to Dublin City Centre. Instead of having to stay in the same area, we will be able to programme a number of routes that will easily guide him to different parts of town.”
Talita and Robbie are now further developing the product. They are constantly updating the application based on the users’ feedback and hope to launch the final product in Ireland, the UK and the US next year. They developed the application from the Dean’s Research Initiative Fund (Faculty of Health Science) under the guidance of Assistant Professor John Dinsmore (PI) and Assistant Professor Kevin Kelly, Professor Mary McCarron and Professor Philip McCallion (Co-PIs) with additional support provided by the Schools of Engineering and Nursing and Midwifery (Trinity Centre for Practice and Healthcare Innovation and IDS-TILDA).
Speaking about the award, Professor Kelly said “We are honoured to receive such a prestigious award and it is the result of much hard work and input from a lot of people. Both Robbie and Talita have worked really hard to develop waytoB, and that effort has been recognised in the numerous awards – with the National Disability Authority, Social Entrepreneurs Ireland and Trinity’s Health Science Innovation Fund also having awarded prizes to the team. The genesis of the project goes back to 2014 when John and I had a conversation about inspiring topics for student projects for students taking my design innovation course 5E3 Innovation in Product Development. Following the conclusion of the project that academic year, we could see real potential in both the idea and the people - Robbie and Talita. We worked hard to secure funding from the Schools of Engineering and Nursing & Midwifery to allow them both to continue work on the project once they graduated, with Talita returning from Sao Paulo, which I think speaks to the level of their commitment to progressing the concept”.
Asked about the future for this and other projects, Professor Kelly added “We really believe in this idea and are at an advanced stage of testing, after which we hope to deploy this in Ireland and further afield, where we can see huge potential social impact – a big motivator for us. We’re in advanced negotiations with Enterprise Ireland about funding for the next stage and we are optimistic that we will be successful there. More broadly, we’re seeing a number of other ideas from our student teams coming to reality. Several concepts are being developed in-house by our industrial sponsors, while another of our more ‘social impact’ projects is being submitted to the Enterprise Ireland Feasibility Study grant scheme. We believe we have a winning formula for product/service innovation and we have top talent in the form of our students and those of our partner universities in the SUGAR network. Put it this way, waytoB will probably not be the last time you hear of students from this programme winning awards like this!”
The team will now proceed to the international stage of the competition and will compete against students from 23 different countries to win the overall James Dyson award and the grand prize of €35,000.
The Irish judges were Adrian Weckler, Technology editor of the Irish Independent /Sunday Independent, Ciara O’Brien, business journalist with The Irish Times, and Barry Sheehan, Head of Design and Assistant Head of the School of Art, Design and Printing, DIT.