Pakistani student’s ‘sonic eye’ a ray of light for the visually impaired
Islamabad: Two years ago when Faizan Khan woke up in hospital following a car crash, he rubbed his eyes hard but still couldn’t see a thing. He initially thought it was an effect of the trauma from which he would recover with time but he had in fact been blinded.
Today, the horrors of his car accident are long gone but he is still learning to live in a world he cannot see anymore.
“I had great difficulty at first as I simply wasn’t prepared for it” says Faizan. “One of the most detrimental impacts of vision loss is that you’re not able to move around like before. The fact that you are dependent on someone for movement is the worst feeling.”
Faizan and millions of visually impaired people like him now have a chance to make sense of their surroundings with the help of Sonic Eye, a device that acts as a navigational prop through the medium of sound.The innovative device has been developed by 23-year-old Hifza Jamal, a student from Peshawar in the north-western province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — signifying how young Pakistani women in the field of technology are transforming society.
Talking to Gulf News, Hifza explained that Sonic Eye is basically a stick that is attached to a navigation system. “This navigation helps to identify the objects in the path. These sensors alert the visually impaired with a loud sound when an object is nearby,” she said.
“The device releases frequencies in the shape of a cone, which when they come in contact with any object in a certain range, activate the buzzer,” said Hifza detailing her invention.The device can indicate obstacles ahead and makes it easier for visually impaired people to find their way around. The device could be extremely useful for not only the blind but also the partially blind or people with complex eye diseases.
During her research for the project, Hifza spoke to several visually impaired persons as well as eye therapists to understand the problems faced by people with vision loss.“What struck me most was that vision loss can have a debilitating impact on the mobility and independence of people. They are stuck in one place and become dependent on other people.”
Determined to instil hope in the physically challenged population of Pakistan, Hifza decided to resume work on her university project. “Sonic Eye was basically my university final year project made with the help of my colleagues under the supervision of my professors,” said Hifza, who completed her Bachelor of Computer Science degree from the Institute of Management Sciences Peshawar.“I am perhaps the first one to launch this technological device in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” she reckons.
Hifza is currently busy working to develop a mobile app that will be able to offer a navigational aid for the blind without even having to use the stick. The app has image processing, face recognition and object detection features, which will help partially sighted persons perceive their surroundings with the use of a mobile camera. “The app is basically aimed at partially blind people,” Hifza explained.
“The app will also recognise currency by speaking the denomination, enabling visually impaired people to easily identify and count bills.”
Hifza is also the co-founder of Sympathizers, an organisation working to provide better education, health and everyday facilities to special people in Peshawar.Armed with the Sonic Eye and the app she is working on, Hifza aims to bring about a phenomenal change in the lives of people with visual impairments. “This technology can allow sightless people to live an independent life,” she said.
“I wish to make this device available free of cost not only in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but also all across Pakistan with the help of the government,” she said.
As for Faizan, he is thrilled to learn about Sonic Eye. “I can’t wait to try this amazing piece of technology as I will be able to move around on my own without depending on my family members,” he exclaimed.