In 2009, Alex Dean, then 12-years-old, noticed a woman at the intersection of a busy street. He saw that she was hesitant to walk and Alex asked if he could help. It was then he learned the woman was blind and kindly escorted her across the crosswalk. The woman told Alex that there aren’t many devices or aids available to help blind individuals navigate their everyday world.
The brief interaction sparked a curiosity in Alex and he knew he had to help. How? He wasn’t sure. Alex went home and purchased a robotics kit online, intent on tinkering until he created something that would help blind people explore their environments with ease. After years of hundreds of prototype attempts, failures, and continued tenacity, at 15-years-old, Alex Dean presented iAid, his invention of a sensory belt for sight-impaired individuals.
How does the iAid work? In his own words, Alex Dean explains his invention:
“The iAid is a device that attaches to your belt and uses sensors to scan a space and guides someone with visual impairments or no sight at all. In terms of how it works, the sensors on your belt do a whole bunch of fancy stuff with your phone, Google maps, and Bluetooth compass. This process is then communicated to the device, which provides feedback to your hands. The user holds a little joystick, and the joystick will swivel automatically to tell you where you need to go. So, if you walk into a room and there are a lot of obstacles on your left, and you have to get to your right, the joystick will automatically swivel to the right to steer you through the room. Outdoors, the joystick will also tilt to tell you how far away you are, and as you get closer, it approaches a more vertical position. It’s like me taking you by your hand and walking with you down the street.”
What’s inspiring about Alex Dean’s story is that his invention was created from the source of kindness. He saw a person who needed help, learned about her situation, and was inspired to help her and other visually impaired individuals better maneuver around their cities.
We learn an important life lesson from Alex – no matter your age, you can influence the world with kindness!