At the Asia Pacific ICT Alliance awards, more commonly referred to as the APICTA Awards held in Taipei, Taiwan in 2016, two students from St. Anthony’s College, Kandy were presented with the Gold Medal under the School Category. Their award winning product? A smart walking stick.
Sri Lankans are certainly known for their ingenuity. From one man’s goal to developing a sock that can put a stop to foot amputations in diabetic patients, to another man’s dream of building an electric super car, it certainly is a proud moment for us indeed.
Making a name for themselves
The two students competed against nominations from over 16 other countries in the Asia Pacific region and were selected as the best under the student category of APICTA Awards. This marks the third time that Sri Lanka won the Gold Award at Asia Pacific Level. Pasindu Chathuranga and Charith Wickremasinghe from Ananda College won the APICTA 2014 Gold Award two years ago in Indonesia and Ganindu Nanayakkara won Gold at the APICTA 2009.
We got some time to talk with the young minds behind the smart walking stick. Here’s what we found out.
Developed by Gajindu Bandara and Gimhana Wijayawardana of St. Anthony’s College, Kandy, under the tutelage of Mrs. Dilhani Fernando, the smart walking stick is essentially a walking stick for those who are visually impaired and are also hearing impaired. The device helps them be more independent and also aid them in their day-to-day transportation.
Before being nominated to participate in the APICTA competition, both Gajindu and Kavindra were winners of the Young Computer Scientist (YCS) competition organized by the Federation of IT Industry Sri Lanka (FITIS) in association with the Ministry of Education and also the Winner of Future Careers Innovation Competition.
Why a Smart walking stick?
When asked what the concept behind developing such a product was, they replied with a real life experience where they saw a visually impaired person playing a flute while they were on their way to school. That set the ball rolling for them to think of something for the people who are visually impaired. Thus resulting in the smart walking stick.
How does it work?
The device is equipped with a number of various mechanisms and sensors to operate. It has an Ultrasonic detection system that can detects obstacles within a proximity of 90cm. It then outputs a series of vibrations that alerts the user that an object is in range and to avoid it. The device also has an inbuilt messaging system that informs a guardian such as a relative or healthcare professional of the visually impaired person that they are in trouble. Furthermore, the device itself has a tracking system embedded into it so that it can be located if it is misplaced or falls along the way due to an unforeseen circumstance. Lastly, the smart walking stick is also equipped with an LED indicator system that informs others in close proximity that the bearer is visually impaired.
Who can use the smart walking stick?
The smart walking stick is aimed at all age groups but is still in its development stage with no plans for being commercially available yet. When asked about the challenges they faced when developing the smart walking stick, two of the main problems they identified was compressing the device into a small space and also finding a proper power source that could fit into the dimensions of the walking stick without obstructing the use of it. They overcame the problem by developing and using a small programming board to make the device footprint smaller and they also made use of rechargeable batteries to power up the device.
Both Gajindu and Gimhana are passionate about the smart walking stick and are optimistic that they can make it a worthwhile venture. In terms of future plans, they still have a number of things to work on. These plans include developing and adding a tracking system for the smart walking stick so that the guardian can find out where the person is. The next addition would be the miniaturization of the power consumption and also the addition of solar panels to maintain continuous power.
Trading blows with the big boys
The concept of a smart walking stick is not new. In fact, Fujitsu developed one for the Mobile World Congress in 2013. The device, aimed for Japan’s aging population includes features such as GPS, 3G and Wi-Fi, and it even has LED display on top of the handle.
At the Consumer Electronics Show 2017, better known as CES 2017, French walking stick makers Fayet introduced their next generation walking stick that learns its owners’ walking habits and can send a message to relatives and healthcare professionals if the habit changes noticeably.
These products are made by companies who have enough funding for it. On the other hand, you have two school going youngsters who have put all their hard work and dedication to this to come up with a product that could actually trade blows with these products. It certainly is a proud moment for us all.
We wish Gajindu Bandara and Gimhana Wijayawardana all the very best in the future endeavors with the Smart Walking stick and hope to see it commercially available as well.