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Students invent new sensory system for the visually impaired
Students Gabriel Habech and Michael Romano presented BeyondSight at the prestigious eMerge Americas tech conference this past April.

Students invent new sensory system for the visually impaired

Engineering undergrads' tech innovation aims to increase the safety and independence of those with blindness - and their startup is attracting attention

May 23, 2024 at 4:30pm

FIU engineering majors Gabriel Habech and Michael Romano have always aspired to improve the lives of others through innovation and entrepreneurship.

“Our world’s toughest challenges require novel, groundbreaking solutions,” said Romano, a Massachusetts native and mechanical engineering senior. “Working together with Gabriel, we’ve merged our engineering background with a knowledge of tech and AI to devise a new solution for the challenge of visual impairment.”

Mike and Gabriel on Stage at Emerge Americas

The two-member team recently created BeyondSight – an assistive technology company that empowers the visually impaired with the security and freedom to go anywhere. Their product is a pair of smart glasses that gathers visual data and a haptic feedback belt that substitutes touch for sight to recreate a 3D environment. The visually impaired can then better navigate and respond to the physical world around them. Using technology that aligns with the brain's natural processing capabilities, BeyondSight can offer an experience superior to red-tipped canes and guide dogs, according to the Panther duo.

Blending AI and haptic feedback (using touch and vibrations to communicate sensations or feelings), BeyondSight offers users a heightened sense of situational awareness, thus giving them the independence explore new places without fear of getting hurt.

While the AI glasses work to detect objects and people within the user's immediate orbit (up to 30 feet away), the specially-designed belt lets the user know how close or far away an item is via a series of vibrations. The closer an object is to the user, the stronger the vibrations. The belt also indicates whether the item is located to the right, left or center of the user by emitting vibrations on the pertinent side.

“Our technology delivers information to the user in a way that feels natural, helping to avoid the common pitfall of over-processing data with AI,” said Habech, an electrical engineering junior and a native of Brazil. The patent-pending BeyondSight process allows users to effortlessly interpret the information as an extension of their natural senses, he added. This, in turn, enables a unique computer-brain synergy to occur and allows the visually impaired to experience a newfound sense of independence and security.

Gabriel working on the next prototype at the FIU Green Library

The two entrepreneurial students have spent the last six months working closely with StartUP FIU, the university’s dedicated innovation hub. Mentors Emily Gresham, assistant vice president for research, innovation and economic development and co-founder of StartUP FIU, and Robert Hacker, director and co-founder of StartUP FIU, have been supporting the team. They helped the students perfect their pitch for eMerge Americas, South Florida’s premier global tech conference and expo. The mentors are also working with the founders as they seek to raise money to develop their minimum viable product or MVP.

Currently, BeyondSight has three part-time interns funded by a grant from a private foundation, and Habech and Romano met this week with two potential investors.

Beyond Sight team working on the next prototype at the Green Library

“One of our most rewarding activities at StartUP FIU is working with founders on their ideas. Gabe and Mike are natural entrepreneurs so we have high hopes for them,” Gresham said. “If you’re reading this and happen to be an investor, please call me and I will be happy to introduce Gabe and Mike.”