What do a team of 14-year-old girls from Palestine have in common with the visually-impaired?

Aseel Abu Leil, Aseel Sha’ar and Nour El Arda, from United Nations Relief and Works Agency’s (UNRWA) Askar Girls’ School in Palestine, have designed a laser cane to assist visually impaired people get around without bumping into objects or tripping on holes in the ground.

What makes their cane unique is that it was built with sensors at the bottom that produce different sounds according to the type of surface ahead. The cane is capable of detecting holes in the ground and indicates when someone is approaching a liquid surface.

Did You Know?
Laser canes have existed since the early 1970s, but the one designed by these girls is capable of detecting holes in the ground. A big improvement I would say!

The idea for the project came about when Aseel Abu Leil observed her blind aunt and uncle struggled to navigate the city of Nablus with its steep slopes and lack of sidewalks. As a result, the girls came up with the project and started to make designs for a laser cane that could alert the user to obstacles or drop-offs. They overcame incredible odds to put this project together, since electronic parts are hard to come by in the West Bank. They had to make multiple trips to Ramallah, a city 45 minutes away that requires passing two Israeli checkpoints, in order to get their parts. Talk about working hard!

Did You Know?
About 314 million people are visually impaired worldwide, and 45 million are blind. Unfortunately, 87 per cent of the world’s visually impaired live in developing countries.

This innovative science project has given the girls the opportunity to participate at Intel’s International Science and Engineering Fair, from May 9 to May 14, 2010, in the U.S. It is the world’s largest pre-college science and engineering competition with more than 50 participating countries. The grand prize is a total of $50,000.

Learn more:

Video demonstration of what the cane does: http://www.unrwa.org/etemplate.php?id=655

More information regarding blindness worldwide: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs282/en/

Canadian National Institute for the Blind: http://www.cnib.ca/en/Default.aspx

Article first published on July 15, 2010.

Intel’s International Science and Engineering Fair: http://www.intel.com/education/isef/

Famous Woman Inventors: http://inventors.about.com/od/womeninventors/Women_Inventors.htm

Iris Liu

I am a medical student at the UBC, Island Medical Program. Between coordinating for Gene skool, learning about medicine, and playing on my guitar, percussing my food and co-managing the In the News section of CurioCity, I occasionally wonder when I sleep! But all is well when I take the time to just reflect on the day by reading my Bible and writing plays about a fictional character named Cindy.


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