It’s not every day that you wash your hands next to Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and MC Hammer.
That moment stood out as Engineering junior Eric Berdinis’ favorite from a two-day conference he attended in Arizona as a Google Zeitgeist Young Minds Award winner.
Berdinis and fellow Engineering junior Jeff Kiske were among 10 people in North America who were honored for creating an invention that impacted their community.
Berdinis and Kiske entered the competition last May by submitting a video demonstration of Kinecthesia, a waist belt that helps visually impaired individuals navigate through the world.
The pair developed this product through their ESE 350 class, “Introduction to Embedded Systems” last spring.
The course, led by Engineering professor Rahul Mangharam, requires students to apply their knowledge of how computation devices are embedded into the physical world through a design project.
Mangharam said he encouraged his students to create medical devices that would positively impact the health and wellbeing of an individual.
With that in mind, Berdinis and Kiske developed a device to help the visually impaired. Kinecthesia was developed from a Microsoft Kinect with depth sensor and a set of vibration motors.
Users wrap the device around their waist, which is embedded with a depth sensor to locate obstacles in their path. Individuals are alerted about obstructions based on the intensity and location of vibrations stemming from the belt.
While the device seems simple enough, it certainly posed problems for the duo during the building process. Only a few hours before the project was due for the class, one of the cables broke, leading to an impromptu SEPTA ride to the downtown GameStop for a replacement.
“We were soldering up wires until the last minute,” Kiske said.
Once the project was complete, the pair was all smiles.
“It was pretty rewarding at the end,” Berdinis said.
Shortly after the project was finished, self-proclaimed “Google nerd” Berdinis was alerted to the competition through the search engine’s blog.
While Berdinis was hopeful, Kiske remained skeptical about their chances of winning the award. However, Berdinis received an email from the organization a few weeks later letting him know that their design had been selected for further inspection along with 29 other contestants.
Still, Berdinis did not tell Kiske about the accomplishment, since he still was not sure about their chances of winning the actual award. It was during the first week of the fall semester that Berdinis received the call.
“He was like, ‘Oh, by the way, we won.’ And I was just like, ‘What?’” Kiske said.
Only one from the team was allowed to attend the all-expenses-paid trip, and since Berdinis submitted the video, he was invited to the conference.
On Sept. 25, Berdinis flew out to Paradise Valley, Ariz., and was picked up in a Lincoln Town Car to escort him to the hotel where the conference was hosted. Since the organizers tended to be close-mouthed about the details of the event, Berdinis was not sure what to expect.
At the event, Berdinis had the chance to attend different panels led by prominent CEOs and innovators, including Richard Branson, Tim O’Reilly and Chelsea Clinton. Berdinis was even invited to give his own speech about the development and design of Kinecthesia.
“From the conference, we’re going to have all of these connections. They were throwing help at us,” Berdinis said.
Now that the conference is over, both Berdinis and Kiske are developing the second generation of Kinecthesia under Mangharam.
While the conference provided them with a list of contacts, they are planning to be fairly independent in their project by applying for grants from different campus programs, Kiske said.
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