Last season’s FLL WORLD CLASSSM Global Innovation Semi-Finalist, the Heschel RoboHawks of Northridge, California, developed the Word Ring as their Project solution. The team of 6th- through 8th-graders describes their invention as a text-to-speech device designed to assist visually impaired people read; 34% of visually impaired children are non-readers in America. Braille books are not easily accessible and used by a very small minority. The Word Ring provides the opportunity to read text using a small wearable device which can scan any surface and hear it read simultaneously. The sensor on the Word Ring vibrates gently, reminding the reader to stay on the line. It differs from other reading aids because it converts text directly to speech, while other current assisted reading devices either magnify words or convert the text to electronic output using a large and cumbersome computer.
Each team member attends Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School. Team member Eli Rothschild shared how the concept of fixing the world that is taught at their school inspired the idea and subsequent success of their invention. “We are always taught to think about others. The main focus of our FIRST® LEGO® League team in 2014 was, ‘How can we help the disabled or special needs population?’ Fixing the world (Tikkun Olam) relates to the Word Ring because we put the needs of others before ourselves to help those less fortunate.”
After participating as Semi-Finalists for the Global Innovation Award, presented by XPRIZE®, the team realized that their innovation was unique and filled a void in the area of assistive devices. The team also recognized their invention could have much broader applications than their originally intended market. Knowing that their provisional patent would expire in April 2016, time was of the essence. In the spirit of Tikkun Olam, the team unanimously decided that because they knew the testing and manufacturing of the Word Ring was beyond the scope of their time, funding, and expertise, they would offer the patent as a gift to a company who was capable of developing it.
Coach Kathy Reynolds got to work leveraging the network the team had created during their research as well as thought creatively about what types of companies that might be interested. Never shying away from a cold ask led her to the tech department American Foundation for the blind. They were immediately helpful in connecting her with their top providers of assistive devices and very quickly, the Word Ring provisional patent was accepted by Freedom Scientific, a leader in providing access to print and computers for people with blindness, low vision, or learning disabilities for over 20 years. The team is grateful Freedom Scientific will develop and distribute the Word Ring and hopeful that hundreds of thousands of visually impaired people, mostly children, will benefit from their invention. They are starting the legal process of gifting their provisional patent to Freedom Scientific.
Team member Sally Vogel epitomized the FIRST LEGO League Core Value, “What we discover is more important than what we win,” when she summarized the sentiments of all the RoboHawks about their experience: “We can begin to heal the world by helping the less fortunate by making them more independent. It is more fulfilling to help others than to win prizes.”
Create an Invention that will be Developed
Tips from the RoboHawks
My tips to everyone else are that in order to create an innovation that can be easily created, you need to first narrow down a category into a topic. Then, you need to think realistically and in terms of cost to create an innovation that can be created.
First, think of the topic thoroughly. Once completed, have multiple strands of thoughts that can all help the cause in different ways, and choose one.
Get a main idea of what you want to do then narrow down the concepts.
Implementing your project is a long process but it pays off. Be confident about your project and have a lot of knowledge and information. Be enthusiastic and get as much input as possible from professionals in the field.
RoboHawks’ sources in their research on Braille literacy
- American Foundation for the Blind
- American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults