"For us, compassion has always driven what we have done," says M. Bernardine Dias, an associate research professor in the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh.
That compassion led Dias and her team of students, colleagues and staff to a school for the blind in Bangalore, India where a number of years ago they developed an electronic Braille writing tutor to help visually impaired students learn to write Braille with a slate and stylus. The tutors, which include learning games, provide audio feedback in real-time as the students learn to write Braille.
Since the first electronic tutor, Dias and her team have developed a number of versions in different languages and have field tested them in countries where Braille typewriters and specialized keyboards commonly available in developed nations are hard to come by. The hardware designs and software for building the inexpensive tutors, available in both stand-alone and versions that connect to a laptop, are available online.
A news story on the CMU site explains that the compassionate engineering approach Dias champions focuses not only on a community's needs but on its vision of progress. For instance in the developing world, the story suggests, full literacy is impossible for blind people who fail to master writing in Braille.
The electronic tutor has won awards, including the Infy Maker in 2015 and the Louis Braille Touch of Genius Prize for Innovation in 2014.
The work resulted in a series of videos just released online that describe the technology and people involved in the project and encourage others to consider compassionate engineering projects.
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