MIT graduates level the STEM education field by inventing usable measuring tools, called tactile caliper, to students who are visually impaired.
[Image Source: MIT]
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) education involves rigorous lectures and laboratory sessions in order to cover all the theoretical and practical aspects. Numerous manual skills such as calculations and problem-solving techniques are common everyday tasks for those who are in the STEM field. And to be able to carry out such complex tasks, students are required to gather information such as measurements by themselves. That is probably the easiest part of any STEM task but what if a student has an impaired vision? How would you appreciate geometry without seeing shapes? What values would you plug into your formulae if you can't measure the dimensions?
Ph.D. candidates in Mechanical Engineering, Pranay Jain and Anshul Singhal from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have invented Squirrel Devices to address this problem. Caliper tools were imprinted with Braille measurements so students with blind and low-vision (BLV) disability can effectively obtain dimensions and sizes of continuous geometrical shapes. This instrument is targeted for students at K-12 or secondary levels so they can keep up with their other peers.
The tactile caliper is precise to 1/16 of an inch and is four times finer than current rulers. One of these calipers cost between $18 to $29.95. Other units of measurements such as centimeters are currently unavailable in Squirrel Devices and the maximum length it can measure is 12 inches or less. Take a look at this video for a demonstration.
Jain and Singhal have previously worked on a project before called Refreshable Braille Display during their undergraduate studies at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi. From their experience, they discovered that the color of the devices being used by BLV students matter. "Like any 13-year old, they know the connotations of pink or blue", said the two graduate students. The Squirrel Devices then adapted a bright yellow color for the first set of caliper tools that made.
The bespoke caliper has many applicational uses and most probably not just in the field of STEM. "The use-case always surprises us, a student we gave the device to immediately measured the length of his finger — a thing we take for granted", said Jain.
[Image Source: MIT]
Some BLV students have also requested for digital, talking instruments but the two inventors opted for a more mechanical solution that will not be susceptible to electrical faults or won't cost too much.
Maybe this invention is not as extravagant as other hi-tech gadgets and devices but if you're an engineering graduate, you would surely have more appreciation for this simple and practical creation. The mechanical engineering duo is currently developing their next line of Squirrel Devices called the Tactile Protractor. It is in the hope that through these innovations, other people with special circumstances can equally do the work that people without a disability can.
More information and news is available on the MIT news page.