FIRST Robotics for the Blind?

At MARM last Sunday, Cary Supalo spoke about work he is doing to make chemistry labs, and science in general, more open to the blind and visually impaired. Though blind himself, Cary is working on his PhD in Chemistry Education at Penn State and is doing some pretty neat stuff to apply technology to the problems of communicating physical and chemical properties (color from flame analysis, density of precipitates, etc.) to the blind.

Cary was really interested in the FIRST robotics programs and wondered what it would take to make them more accessible to the blind. He brought up a good example where NASA has created a summer space camp program, Rocket On!, for blind high school students - and asks us: if they can assemble, launch and recover rockets, is there any reason blind people can’t build and drive robots?

Before we parted on Sunday, Cary challenged us to work with the National Federation for the Blind to create a blind FIRST robotics workshop with the stretch goal of a blind FIRST team. I’m game and he’s willing to see if NASA could add a robotics module to the Rocket On! program, or create a new workshop just for robotics. It seems to me that with our existing NASA connections and coming off FLL’s No Limits challenge, this should be very doable. Maybe an avenue for FVC?

So, my first questions to the CD community are:

  • Is anyone already doing this? (a quick search of CD didn’t turn up anything)
  • Do any of you already have blind or visually impaired team members or mentors? (Old guys with bifocals don’t count!)
  • If so, what areas do/did they work in, were there any issues and did they bring new perspectives to the team?
  • How could we make this work?

Team 237 experimented with a system code named IDAN in 2002 on our robot.

The electrical team of students and engineers has created a system that would enable independent control of the machine by a visually impaired driver. Code named I.D.A.N. (Intelligent Detection, Analysis and Navigation), the system allows the robot to provide audio feedback to a laptop computer.

It was fun to explore some new grounds with that system that year.
That was probably my favorite year I was in FIRST, just because we tried something completely different that year and it wasn’t just about building a robot…
Well… actually, on our team it never really is only about the robot, but that year was even more unique than other years…

edit: As a side note, there was no main personal reason we did this on the team. We did not have any blind people on the team, or anyone with any kind of visual impairment that year. I really forgot how the concept first started to do that project, but I believe 2002 was the first year that FIRST allowed you to make your own custom electronics board, and it grew from there as to what kind of cool add-on project we could incorporate on the bot.

<moves scanning in the system schematics for I.D.A.N. a little closer to the top of the “to-do” list - I mean, it’s only been what? 3 years? :ahh: >

I should have known that 237 would have done something like this! Do you have any more info on I.D.A.N.? It sounds like a workable solution to the problem of getting robot heading and location feedback to the driver. I was thinking along the same lines, or of a braille-type indicator (imagine a braille compass).

Did you do any testing with this system or with the zone sensors?

our team has an visually impaired student…he works on our control box and website…

I’m sure we can figure out something to do. if we do some research and test few things out. every is possible especially in FIRST

Hmm. I think this is a great idea. A seemingly major concept of F.I.R.S.T. is that they wish to be more friendly and outreaching to the community. By integrating something in for the blind, teams can become more recognized and this will also help to improve on using robotics to promote science.

I’m sure people on our team would be willing to make this work by learning braile and applying it to our work. We were ready to learn German to join up with a team from Germany. I see this being no different! :slight_smile:

I’m not too sure about the specifics, but I know that we did extensive testing of this experimental system @ the NYC Regional, and @ Nationals in Florida.

I know that our current lead electrical mentor has the folder packed with all the information about the system and he took it because we were cleaning the robotics closet and it was going to get thrown away, but I saved it for him.

I’ll either have to see if he can scan in all the info, or pass it off to me to scan it in and share with the FIRST community who would be interested in possibly taking it a step further.

All I remember is that it used a small Honeywell digital compass I believe.
And we used the banner sensors to locate the lines on the field for further positioning accuracy.

One of the things on my To Do list has been to create a coordinate system for our '06 bot. Basically, set up a cartesian grid and be able to tell a robot what coordinates to go to. Maybe I can also add in the feature of audio feedback, where it would say what position it’s currently at, and audio input, where you would verbally say where you want it to go and it would go there and report when there. I’d be more than willing to help out with a project like this, so if you need any programmers gimme a call =)

Didn’t Wildstang use a coordinate-based system for their autonomous back in 2003?

I don’t recall them having any kind of audio feedback, but I do remember a Windows interface where you could click and set waypoints for the robot to go to. It shouldn’t be too difficult to adapt their system to give audio cues as feedback, or to eliminate the Windows interface.

And even though we never got it working during the season, the CMU Cam could be useful here to help the robot figure out where it is on the field…

Only advantage I see to that, is it doesn’t have to start in a certain position. Having stuff that you can’t control (such as lighting) would make this just as much a problem in this project as it was during the season. The only thing I can think of, is possibly integrating the two. Somehow, in the beginning, use the camera to find where you are on the field. Then you can use the coordinate system.

well this is something i have been putting thought into, their is a blind student at our school who was very interested in the robot and wants to join next year. So far I havent been able to come up with a good way to work him into our program but I would definitly like to. The thing that amazed me the most is that one night when the bot was at school he and I went through the whole robot and he felt each piece, this was about 4 weeks ago and he still can relativly accurately describe parts on the bot to ask me questions about it. It seems like a shame to lose someone with this ability and with this desire to get involved. However many people are tending to discourage him, one of our mentors was questioning why I was l;etting him touch it. I feel I need to come up with a solution soon if I am going to get him involved next season.

This is one of the things which I really love about FIRST: post a problem and all these great people jump at the chance to solve it! I don’t know where this is going yet, but I will definitely keep you in the loop.

It sounds like the experience made a big impression on your friend. It also sounds like he has a real interest in robotics.

It seems like a shame to lose someone with this ability and with this desire to get involved. However many people are tending to discourage him, one of our mentors was questioning why I was l;etting him touch it…
Since I don’t know your team’s situation, I shouldn’t judge. However, Cary told us that one of the challenges he had to overcome were the teachers who tried to dissuade him from pursuing his interest in chemistry. There is a common perception that the blind are not capable of functioning in areas like science and engineering.

I don’t know what blind people are or are not capable of, so I don’t think I should be setting limits, except to prevent someone from being injured. I suppose that highly visually-oriented tasks, CAD for example, might not make the best place for him to start, but there are a number of areas where he could probably be productive. Programming, strategy, brainstorming and design conceptualization are all primarily mental activities. While he might not be as productive as sighted people at things like mechanical assembly and wiring, I’d think he could probably do those things with assistance.

If you are up for the challenge, maybe you could take your friend under your wing and help him show the rest of the team that he can make a contribution. Most likely the doubters are just reacting like most people do when confronted with the unknown - with doubt and imagining the worst.

why are they trying to discourage him? i understand that the team may have to make adaptations to let him do things, but isn’t that what FIRST is about, getting everyone involved and giving them equal opportunities? I think that was so nice of you to go through your robot with him and you deserve a pat on the back! gives virtual pat on the back I really hope that your mentor (the one questioning why you let him touch the robot) reads this and realizes that no matter what limitations a person has, they should be included, and that the kid gets to be a part of your team next year. I think its so awesome that you’re all trying to come up with ways to make FIRST accesible for people with visual impairments.

My team is small and my school has very limited resourcesfor me to use, however a man who works with me at a summer camp spent years volunteering at a school for the blind and deaf andhas agreed to help me develop a plan.

TThe reason I see for the discouraging is that they dont see how he could fit in or how we could help him and quite frankly they feel we dont have the time during build season to change things, I feel however that we have 7 months to get him used to what we do and let him get involved.

My self and my girlfriend have worked with him in many clubs and do our best to keep him involved. I am pleanty willing to take him under my wing, however I am a programmer, well i gues I am every thing, I helped with design and building and did all the programming. He already told me he didnt think he dold to the programming because his ability to type is limited. However I am not going to give up trying to find the spot for him, my selling point for the team is that there is a place for every one but this one is proving a little bit of a challenge (then again I havent had a good challenge since those 6 weeks in the winter ended.) I have one question for those of you who have been to the manchester kickoff, do you think it would be possible for him to walk the field next year so he could understand the game without seeing the animation?

My final thing to say is if any of you ever get a chance to converse with some one blind or deaf (yes 90% of deaf persons can carry on a conversation in some manner.) take advantage of it, I garuntee it will rank among the best you ever had these people in no way see tthere disability as a hinderance and instead develop incredible abilities in other areas.

Thanks to Winged Globe for the first additions to a library of information to show people that blind and visually-impaired people can do things we expect of FIRST team members.

MMS Online Feature Article - Adapting And Advancing - about a machine shop staffed with blind people
The Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind - whose mission is “To create and enhance opportunities for independence and self-sufficiency of people who are blind, Deaf-Blind, and blind with other disabilities.” - operators of that machine shop and other businesses.

Anyone else with experiences or links like these, please post!

Don’t limit programming to just hitting keys, there is a lot of logic/design involved (as you probably already know). What about having him work with you on the logical part of it, and you typing the code. Develop a flowchart with him, tell him what the robot did right/wrong and then work with him on fixing it.

I believe that Truck Town 68 had two deaf alumnus within it’s eight year history.

Elgin and I are working on getting this info together for distribution, but in the meantime…

Here’s how it worked:

We used a Honeywell magnetic sensor that could be configured to act as a compass. This was fed to a Z-World RCM-2020 microcontroller board, which was then fed to the robot controller. The Banner sensor was aimed at the carpet to sense the tape that marked the zones. This sensor was connected to the robot controller.

As the sensor detected tape (indicating a zone change), we would read our joystick inputs and compass heading to determine our movement direction.

All of this info was collected by a Visual Basic program on a laptop connected to the dashboard output of the Operator Interface. We’d use this info to provide audible feedback to the driver(entering zone 2, facing northeast, etc).

There was more…we tried to auto-track the goals and grab them, using the same feedback system to inform the driver of the current status.

There were problems, but we were pretty limited in 2002 as to suppliers, cost, and configuration, not to mention the PBASIC based RC (ugh)!!!

If anyone wants more info, feel free to contact me, I’ll help if I can…

Our team had a blind student this year who worked with the programming team. He is very proficient with using computers and had done some programming in the past I believe. About halfway through the build season he got sick for almost two weeks, after that he was too bogged down with school work to continue with us. I hope that he is able and interested in participating on the team again next year.

We have had 2 deaf students on our team.

One of them just graduated last year as a 4 year member of the team and is now attending RIT. He was an awesome build team designer and a great kid. Our team misses him a whole lot.

He also volunteers at many FIRST events like Rochester, Philly and our own Ramp Riot off-season comp.

Nothing has ever stopped this guy from reaching his goals.

Hello to all,
I know this thread is outdated. I mean, cmon, 2005!
But I think it is the perfect thread to post in, as the original intent is having FIRST for disabilities.
I’ve been involved with FIRSt since 2007, the year in which me and my team attended a competition, Buckeye regional. At the time, I wasn’t as into the team and what we do for the competitions as I was this year. Being blind with only light prception on my right eye, I don’t do much of the building. Heh, I can just imagine me pllugging the wrong wire in and causing total chaos.
But there are other things I do. I like programming, and since I was born in a foreign country (Hungary), have been learning it from my dad since I was 8. Those were the Pascal days. But since C and Borland in general has roots with Pascal, it was easier for me to addept to C and C++ rather than something like Java. So I don’t do much object orientated programming, I like a simple IDE better. I use screen reading software
which converts the screen into a synthesized voice.

Personally I don’t consider blindness as a disability, but rather as something that gives me more adventure and taste to my life. If you were present at this year’s competitions, you might of seen me as we were taking the creativity award for this year. Having no vision, I can concentrate more on feelings, sounds, emotions…
I’m prowd to be part of the team, as it does give me a unique experience in High School.
Many of my friends say that they would rather go deaf than blind. I think both disabilities have advantages and disadvantages, even in the perspective of first – if I were deaf, I would do lots of building work as I can see where to put and drill. Being blind, I’m concentrated more on programming and websites. I do html, which I hope to improve as I’m basic at it.

Lastly, I am also glad to see that Team 47 recognizes the need to do something for the Blind. Technology and work has improved a lot over the past years for the blind, and I am glad to see that, and with that it is nice to know that many recognize the blind as part of society.
I am open to any questions, regarding FIRST Events, the blind…

Thanks for everything :slight_smile: