Students ‘make a change’ with innovative invention to help the visually impaired

A cross-faculty team of engineering students are celebrating after their invention to help visually impaired people identify different bank and loyalty cards scooped first prize in this year’s ‘Make a Change!’ Engineering Challenge.

Two visually impaired woman walking on pavement, one with guide dog

A popular engineering module, ‘Make a Change!’ gives students from different engineering disciplines the opportunity to come together and apply their theoretical engineering knowledge to solve real-world problems.

This year, students were tasked with developing a marketable solution that will help visually impaired people in their daily lives. As part of their research and development, students had the opportunity to speak with local resident Anthony O’Keefe about his day-to-day routine and the challenges he faces due to visual impairment.

“It was after speaking with Anthony and understanding some of his daily challenges that we realised the opportunity for making bank and other cards more accessible,” explains David Scott, a final year Mechanical Engineering student on the team.

The great thing about Desind is that it not only offers over 30 unique stamps, but it will also help users to orientate their cards, which is particularly helpful when using an ATM or card machine.”

Camilla Seward

Aerospace Engineering student

“Although legal tender in the UK has been designed with visual impairments in mind – such as size, colour, font sizes and braille on the new notes – the vast majority of bank, loyalty and other plastic cards do not. We wanted to create a solution that would give people with visual impairments the freedom to own and use multiple debit, credit and loyalty cards with ease.”

Along with fellow Mechanical Engineering students Camilla Seward and Lawrence Hogg, Aerospace Engineering students Amy James and Matt Williams and Chemical and Biological Engineering student Usama Mujtaba, the team developed Desind - a simple card stamping device which makes indentations (including Braille) on the user’s various cards to make each card identifiable.

“It has been a really challenging but rewarding module and to receive such amazing feedback from Anthony on how the product could help him day-to-day has been a great example of how engineering really can improve lives – it is a message that I will definitely take with me into my future career.”

The module is unique in that it requires the students to use their engineering and design knowledge and mix that with business know-how and the ability to empathise with the customer

Dr Alaster Yoxall ​​​​​

Module lead

After a period of design, including the development of a working prototype, the team presented their solution to a panel of judges including Anthony and representatives from industry. Following deliberation of each project, Desind came away with first prize.

Dr Alaster Yoxall led the module and was impressed with the calibre of projects that were submitted:

“The module is called ‘Make a Change’ for a reason - it seeks to place the development of a business proposition that helps change the lives of real people with real issues firmly in the student’s consciousness. In doing so, it shows how engineers can create a positive impact on people’s lives and be at the centre of solving the many challenges facing individuals and communities in the 21st century.

“The module is unique in that it requires the students to use their engineering and design knowledge and mix that with business know-how and the ability to empathise with the customer; in this case Anthony. The quality of the projects was outstanding across the module. I was genuinely impressed with the levels of engagement with the issue and the business ideas produced.”

Anthony O’Keefe, who helped to judge the projects and offered insight into his own experiences as part of the module, says:

“It was a great module to be involved with and there were some great ideas that could genuinely make life easier for people with sight loss.

“Second prize went to a group that developed a product with the potential to revolutionise the sport I love, goalball. Their tactile tape idea could save a substantial amount of our court time that is spent laying the court instead of playing.

“First prize went to a group [Desind] that developed a card punch, that could allow me to easily identify the various bank and loyalty cards in my wallet. It is a wonderfully simple idea that could really help people with sight loss to be more independent.”

The Desind team are now looking at how they can potentially develop their invention into a business, following in the footsteps of other alumni, such as Exyo, who have taken projects developed at university to market.

“There is a lot of potential for Desind and we are excited to explore opportunities to develop it further. Watch this space!” adds Lawrence.

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