A chess system for the visually challenged

shashaank 001We all have interest in some or the other sport since childhood. Not only that we even play those games on our mobile phones or laptops. We enjoy all outdoor as well as indoor games. But have we ever thought about the visually impaired people? They cannot even enjoy the indoor games. With the world going digital we have everything at our finger tips. How about making digitization helpful for the visually impaired?

Shaashank Sivakumar an engineering student from Chennai has given a thought to this brilliant idea. Having played chess for over 15 years, he have always been amazed on how visually impaired individuals could perform on par with grandmasters. After performing meticulous research on how such people improve their skills, it was really disheartening to note that there was no existing system that helps them to train or practice. Being Computer Science engineers, Shaashank, along with two of his classmates (S. Priyanka and V. Sriram) took this up as their final year project. Since chess is one of the very few games that visually challenged individuals can participate in, he strongly believed it will be beneficial to all the visually challenged people.

The system they are building is still in prototype phase and they are working to improvise it. They are planning to bring games for the visually impaired which will be powered solely by voice commands. With the use of algorithms and various learning machine tools they plan to train the system with games played by humans. A repository of over 5 million games will be used for this purpose. This will ensure that the user doesn’t get outsmarted by the system easily and he/she will feel like the opponent is a human and not a computer.

For Shaashank and his team building this system is not an easy task. They have to face challenges to understand the movements and skills of visually impaired people. They have to get acknowledged with the learning and thinking process of these people. Based on these inputs the algorithms has to be designed and it is a big challenge to put human emotions and thinking into the game. The other main challenge is the time constraint. They plan to finish this product by the starting of next year so that it can be deployed during the Blind Chess Olympiad 2016.

It is really a very innovative idea designed by a trio college students which can help the visually impaired to enjoy the excitement and challenges of the game. Chess, as an indoor game does not require physical activity and would be easy for the visually impaired people to play. With the aids provided by the system developed by Shaashank and his team it will definitely help the sports industry to nurture a different sector altogether. With this innovation the visually impaired people can also take part in the competitive games conducted across international level. It might turn out to be a path-breaking innovation if successful.

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Taparch giving eyes to the visually impaired

Whenever we think or see a visually impaired (Blind) person, only one thing comes to our mind – the white guiding stick. It is the identifying characteristics of a blind person. But soon identifying a blind person from a normal person will not be evident. With Krishna Sai Inkoolu’s innovation a blind person can lead an easier life without being dependent on the stick. He can walk easily now and avoid obstructions in its way with the help of a sensor shoe.

Krishna started working on this innovation right from first year of engineering college. Through his innovation he wanted to bring a change in the life of visually impaired people by using technology. This pair of shoes called as Taparch – meaning free walk, can help identify obstacles within a range of 400 cm. They have sensors fitted into them which can detect the hurdles and give a tap to the foot of the wearer. Krishna observed that the visually impaired people have good sensory realization in terms of voice and feel. So considering this, he invented TAPARCH that works on principle of “Sense of Touch”, and lets the user identify the distance and dimension of the obstacle ahead. The sensor in the shoes works on chargeable batteries which are charged up by mechanical energy generated while walking. This eliminates the efforts of a blind person to change the batteries.

Taparch

Using technical innovation and application of simple things like generation of mechanical energy, Krishna invented a design which can help the needy people. This has helped to make the shoe very user-friendly and easy to adapt. Krishna describes that ‘the life of visually impaired is made easier through this product at an affordable price. It will also lend them more confidence’. Usually many innovators face challenges in terms of raising funds and bringing the product into the market. After getting innovator award from FICCI in 2014, many investors have approached Krishna. But in case of Taparch, the main hurdle lies in making it available to the right people. Since the target segment is challenging who cannot see the product; the appeal or the awareness will be very limited. So the main challenge lies in making the visually impaired aware about such product which can help them. People related to them should help to get this product reach upto the needy.

Krishna Sai says that his only motive is to diffuse novel technology to the under-privileged section of the society. So what does the future hold for Taparch and Krishna Sai? He writes – So far we’ve tested the productivity of Taparch at National Blind People Association. Our next step is to scale the pilot at a national level.

Good marketing strategies by using various means of traditional media like Radio, audio promotions; government intervention to support the visually impaired can help Taparch and Krishna to achieve their mission. What started as a small project in a lab in Gitam University (Vishakhapatnam) has become a start-up to give sight to the visually impaired people.