Washington: Raghav Ganesh, a 13-year-old Indian-American seventh-grader has won a $5,000 award and named one of America’s top 10 youth volunteers of 2015 for designing and building a device to help visually impaired people.
The device built by Ganesh of San Jose, California uses sensors to detect objects beyond the reach of the white canes used by many blind people.
He was one of 10 young Americans selected in the 2015 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards programme for national recognition based on their outstanding achievements in community service.
Selected from a field of more than 33,000 youth volunteers, Ganesh also gets an engraved gold medallion, a crystal trophy for his school, and a $5,000 grant from The Prudential Foundation for a non-profit charitable organisation of his choice.
Raghav got the idea after watching a video about the challenges faced by those with limited or no eyesight.
“I saw how, despite being used for several centuries, the white cane does not provide users enough information about their environment,” he said.
“I also saw why many high-tech alternatives are not meeting the needs of visually challenged folks.”
Because he enjoys science and electronics, and has become familiar with sensors and motors through a toy-building hobby, Raghav decided to see if he could design something better.
He built a small prototype and entered it in a local science fair. He then sought advice from the head of a local blind center, and over the next several months made five major revisions based on feedback from blind centre staff and actual cane users.
He ended up with a device that clamps onto the cane, uses ultrasonic and infrared sensors to detect obstacles more than six feet (1.8 metres) beyond the end of the cane, and communicates this information to the user through vibrations in the cane’s handle.
Raghav secured a grant to make multiple copies, and hopes to create an open patent so that organisations for the blind around the world can make the device for their clients.