Nine-year-old awarded for inventing ‘Smart Stick’ for the blind
19 July 2019
UCL PhD candidates worked with Mihika Sharma to create a prototype for the Smart Stick, which has won her the BT Young Pioneer Award 2019.
Helping a blind woman to cross the road with her mother in 2016 inspired then five-year-old Mihika to think of a way to help visually impaired people to get about.
When the woman they helped tripped over a step, an upset Mihika decided to design a stick to help people to walk safely by themselves. The Smart Stick uses vibrating alerts, a water sensor, LED lights and a camera with AI to recognise and track obstacles.
Mihika said: “I was so excited to be shortlisted, and I can’t believe I’ve won! My brother Arnav was a part of the Tech4Good awards in 2016 and that really inspired me to start thinking more about how technology can help other people. I can’t wait to work with BT to develop the Smart Stick further so that we reach more people who really need it.”
Mihika’s mother, Manisha, entered her young daughter into the Primary Engineer Leaders’ Awards based on her idea. Winning the whole competition and beating over 3,000 other entries brought Mihika into contact with UCL’s Department for Electronic & Electrical Engineering (EEE).
The team of EEE PhD candidates, led by Dan Mannion, worked with the then six-year-old Mihika for a year to develop her prototype Smart Stick. The team – Dan, Nedeen Alsharif and Dipen Upadhyay – showed her which components and circuits would work for her designs, and based on her decisions assembled the electronics and printed the casing.
Dan said: “Far from this being something we created for Mihika, this was a collaborative project where she made the key decisions and questioned everything to make sure the stick was true to her design.
“Working with Mihika was inspiring. To see a young engineer tackling problems faced by others embodies the fundamentals of what engineering is about – solving problems faced by people.
“Throughout the process, constraints had to be considered. Mihika would always return to considering the people at the centre of the work, those with visual impairment. Such a mature and measured approach is key to effective and considerate engineering. Combining this with a technical knowledge and an ability to quickly pick up new concepts makes for a formidable engineer.
“I look forward to seeing Mihika’s future work and the changes it will have on those around her.”
The first version of the Smart Stick was presented at the UCL Provost Engagement Awards in 2017, where both the President & Provost Professor Michael Arthur and the Dean of Engineering Nigel Titchener-Hooker tested the stick.
Through winning the BT Young Pioneer Award, Mihika will receive £5,000 of tech equipment as well as focused sessions with BT experts to help her to develop her project.
Mihika is also being supported through the UCL Tutors Engineering Programme.
- Credit: Manisha Sharma
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