Perkins School for the Blind was a fan favorite at a popular networking event for innovators, taking home a “Favorite New Product” award for its mobile app, BlindWays.
At a Mass Innovation Nights event on Wednesday, the iPhone app, the first to be released by Perkins, was up against other cutting-edge products like a robotic charging device for autonomous vehicles, 3-D printed custom sunglasses and a virtual reality footwear system.
Mass Innovation Nights are a monthly event series that celebrates Massachusetts’ dynamic start-up culture and gives companies an opportunity to promote new products. Nearly 300 people attended the event, which was held in the heart of Cambridge’s aptly named Technology Square.
The audience of inventors, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and others voted on their favorite new innovations after hearing company spokespeople describe their product.
Speaking for BlindWays was Perkins’ technical support specialist Joann Becker, who is blind. She told the crowd that BlindWays changed her life.
“I’ve always missed the bus,” she said. “I used my iPhone with voiceover and GPS (to find the bus stop) but within 30 feet, it wasn’t accurate. Our app has been designed to take care of the accuracy issue (by picking up where GPS leaves off).”
With BlindWays, travelers like Becker can access crowd-sourced clues to help them navigate within three feet of an MBTA bus stop. The clues describe permanent landmarks that can be tapped by a white cane – like metal mailboxes or wooden benches. Since the app’s launch in October, the public has submitted clues for more than 4,000 stops.
“We are on our way to solving this problem for the MBTA,” said Perkins Solutions Director of Products Luiza Aguiar. “And then we can go to other cities with the same solution.”
In addition to winning a “Favorite New Product” award, the Perkins team was selected by online voters as a featured presenter at the event. Aguiar joined Becker onstage to encourage audience members to submit clues about local bus stops. Roughly 3,000 stops still need information, she said.
“It’s a couple of taps on your iPhone,” Aguiar said. “What you’re doing is identifying easily recognizable landmarks – it could be a tree, or a bench or a barrel.”
Consultant Tina Adolfsson nodded her head as she listened to the Perkins team describe BlindWays. She said she liked the idea of utilizing technology to get the public involved in improving public transportation for people with disabilities.
“That’s brilliant,” she said. “It’s an easy way for people to help.”