WatVision wins national James Dyson Award


University of Waterloo-based Watvision has won the national James Dyson Award, and will move on to the international competition.

Founded by University of Waterloo mechatronics engineering graduates Craig Loewen and Lior Lustgarten, WatVision is working to make touchscreen phones more accessible to the visually impaired. The technology comprises three parts: a smartphone app, detection markers placed on each corner of a touchscreen, and a ring worn on the users’ finger.

The international James Dyson Award provides $50,000 for the student winners, and $8,500 for the student’s university department.

The app uses the smartphone’s camera to identify the position of the touchscreen by locating the four detection markers that act as screen boundaries. It then takes an image of the touchscreen, which is sent to Google Cloud, and downloaded onto the phone. Once the user points to a button on the touchscreen with the ring wearing finger, the app locates the ring and uses the downloaded image to read the text out loud, allowing the user to select the correct action and independently use the touchscreen service.

“Once we realized how much we used touchscreens on a daily basis and how it would not only affect visually impaired people, but the aging population, we knew we could make a large impact on an underdeveloped market,” said Lustgarten. “After interviewing members of this community, it was apparent that this was an overlooked problem that needed a solution.”

The runners-up include two University of Toronto inventions. Printem is a “smart film” that lets users go from design to physical circuit in three minutes by using home-office printers, while Revertome is a surgical instrument that delivers cells within bioink via a compact handheld bioprinter.

“We are planning to continue working on WatVision as we move into our new careers after graduation,” said Loewen. “With the design being open source, we are hoping it will attract the attention of other engineers and people in technology who care about the same accessibility issues and can help improve the design.”

Open to students, the international James Dyson Award provides $50,000 for the student winners, and $8,500 for the student’s university department. National winners receive $3,000, while runners-up receive $8,500 each.

The international winner will be announced on November 15.

Jessica Galang

Jessica Galang

Freelance tech writer. Former BetaKit News Editor.

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