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Cornell competition addresses real-world needs with Braille e-reader entry

Team UR Brailles e-reader was selected as a finalist in the 2014 Cornell Cup USA
Team UR Braille’s e-reader was selected as a finalist in the 2014 Cornell Cup USA
In the fictional world, Iron Man and RoboCop are two superheroes who incorporate technology into their suits to enhance their physical capabilities. The Cornell Cup USA is one example of an engineering competition that enables some of these characters’ fictitious elements to become a reality.

Previous contenders in the Cornell Cup have come up with ideas such as an ergonomic upper-body exoskeleton, a Braille e-reader and a semi-autonomous wheelchair, which address real-world needs and improve human capabilities.

The teams are competing not only for the prize money, but also for the chance to put the competition on their resume and network says Claire Velasquez, public relations for Cornell’s competition.

While Team UR Braille, a group of University of Rochester undergraduates, competed in the second annual Cornell Cup, they were allowed to apply this year as long as they could prove that they had made new progress on the project. In fact, they were once again selected as finalists and will be invited to compete in the final event in Orlando, Florida, come May 2014.

“The Braille e-reader idea kind of struck me as something no one had ever done before,” Christina Kayastha, a member of Team UR Braille, said, “so we wanted to do something that wasn’t typical of a robotics competition.”

Team UR Braille, which consists of Christina Kayastha ’14, Samantha Piccone ’14, Douglas Miller ’15 and Ben Ouattara ’16 wanted to create a product that enable the blind community accessing material on a screen. They are trying to create a Braille e-reader that can display information such as hyperlinks and page structure.

The team competed in and received an honorable mention in the second annual Cornell Cup USA, sponsored by Intel Corporation. Even though their idea was well received, the winning teams were able to present physical prototypes, which gave them an advantage. But the team is still active in developing the Braille reader and meets on a regular basis.

“Last year was mainly the design process,” Kayastha said, “we were debating between different technologies that we could use. So there were a lot of failed ideas, but by the end of the year, we had a working design. The goal for the end of this year is to have a working motherboard.”

Cornell Cup USA opens up the competition to anyone with an integrated circuit idea. The application process begins in late October once it concludes in early November, 30 teams are selected as finalists. Cornell Cup USA will then provide each team with hardware, funding, access to Intel technical experts, training from Cornell Systems Engineering and an invitation to the final event in Orlando, Florida, where Team UR Braille and a multitude of schools will compete for the grand prize of $10,000.
The winners of the second annual Cornell Cup USA were a group of interdisciplinary undergraduates from the University of Pennsylvania. The group, Team Titan, designed a robotic arm that helps decrease the strain on a right arm by 40 pounds. As such, the product could be very beneficial for persons undergoing arm-related rehabilitation.

“Our team was inspired by the work of Ekso Bionics out of California with their lower body exoskeleton,” Nicholas McGill, a member of Team Titan, said, “and wanted to see how we could make a tangible difference to help lives through an upper body system.”

With two members of Team UR Braille currently in their senior years of college, depending on how the team performs in the 2014 Cornell Cup and how much progress they’ve made, Kayastha believes she and the other senior will continue working on this project after college. The team has been in contact with a local Braille teacher in Rochester and once they have a finished prototype, they anticipate on testing it out with the teacher’s students.

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