Students Get into the Open Innovation Habit

Published Jan-26-15

An app to help blind students navigate their way round school and college campuses wins a school open innovation contest.

Verizon Communications, United States

The Story:

Students Get into the Open Innovation Habit Crowdsourcing and collaboration offer huge potential for innovation and solving challenges efficiently and cost-effectively. Today, these are practices that some people are learning while young.

The Verizon Innovative App Challenge is an open innovation competition in the United States for middle schools and high schools. It offers grants to winning teams and was designed to fire up the creative and problem-solving abilities of children and show them exciting possibilities for the future.

The way the contest works is that teams of between 5 and 7 students develop an original concept that addresses a need in their school and community. Their work processes must incorporate STEM principles (science, technology, engineering and math). In 2014, more than 1,200 students took part.

Android App for the Blind

One of the standout successes of the 2014 contest was a team of six girls from Resaca Middle School in Los Fresnos, Texas. They developed an app concept to help visually-impaired people navigate new spaces.

They were inspired by observing difficulties experienced by blind students moving around parts of their campus. A mobility specialist spends a lot of time with them at the beginning of the school year so they can become familiar with the corridors, halls and spaces, but problems are still encountered.

The inventive students searched for current technology solutions that could make matters easier for their blind colleagues, but found nothing. So they invented their own.

To develop their concept, the pupils imagined they were visually impaired, by donning blindfolds and walking through the halls of their campus. Their experiences helped them to pinpoint features that the app would need.

The app is designed to measure a user's stride and then it combines this information with digital building blueprints. Directions are then given by VoiceOver technology. The app also includes Google Indoor.

The innovative app tells a visually impaired person where they are, where they need to go and it gives them directions, which can save a lot of time. It has not been designed as an obstacle avoidance system.

Prize Money

For their winning innovation, the students won a $20,000 check for their school. "I jumped, then screamed and cried tears of joy. I got up too fast from my chair when they announced we won that I even hurt my leg a little. I couldn't stop smiling," 12-year-old team member Grecía told PEOPLE.

App Development

As the girls didn't have any programming experience, a team from MIT Media Lab helped them put the app together. It is called ‘Hello Navi’ and can be downloaded from Google Play.

Other winning apps from the 2104 crowdsourcing competition were FITTASTICK, an app that tracks food intake and encourages exercises and Tactillium, an app to deliver science education through a chemistry simulator.

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