Startup: 14-year-old Entrepreneur Creates Assistive Device for Hearing and Visually Impaired

Riya Karumanchi Picture

Riya Karumanchi, a 14-year-old Burlington student, created an assistive device called Smart Cane for those with visual or hearing impairments. (Photo provided by Riya Karumanchi)

It was one day that Riya Karumanchi, a 14-year-old Burlington student, learned that her friend’s grandmother experienced vision loss. After witnessing the challenges that the grandmother faced, Karumanchi was inspired to create a solution.  

In Canada, 20 per cent of adults have a hearing impairment and 19 per cent of adults experience visual impairments, according to Statistics Canada.

“I noticed how people with visual or hearing impairments were struggling to get around by themselves,” Karumanchi said. “I saw how frustrating it could be and from that, I wanted to invent an assistive device to improve their lives.”

In February 2017, Karumanchi founded her company, Smart Cane. Smart Cane is a device for orientation and mobility to assist the blind and deaf community. The purpose of the tool is to help increase their independence.

This assistive device is made up of four main features, according to Karumanchi. The first component detects obstacles in front of the user that are obstructing their path and notifies them through vibrations. The device then connects to a map on their mobile phone that will tell them which direction to go. There is also an emergency button and when it is pressed, emergency services will be contacted and given their personal information, medical history and location. The final component offers the user with the option of sharing their location with family and caregivers.

“I believe this device will help those who are deaf or blind and their caregivers as well,” Karumanchi said. “It is important that they have the confidence to travel on their own.”

Science fair project to business

The development process began after Karumanchi participated in Basecamp. This is an eight-week incubation program for youth focused on ideation and creating problem-driven validated solutions at Ryerson University.

“After Basecamp, a partner and I created a prototype of the Smart Cane to present at our school science fair,” Karumanchi said. “We won at our school fair and then advanced on to the Bay Area Science and Engineering Fair [BASEF]. We won a lot of awards at BASEF and that motivated me to turn this science fair project into a business.”

In April 2017, Karumanchi became involved with Hacking Health. This is a social organization that pairs innovators with healthcare experts to build solutions for healthcare problems through the use of emerging technology.

Screen Shot 2017-08-04 at 3.15.56 PM

Riya Karumanchi was awarded the People’s Choice Award at the Hacking Health event. (Photo provided by Riya Karumanchi)

“At this two-day event we pitched our idea and we then formed a team,” Karumanchi said. “After working with the team we had to pitch to a panel of industry professionals who were the judges. We won the People’s Choice Award and I received an internship with MEDIC at Mohawk College.”

The Mohawk mHealth and eHealth Development and Innovation Centre [MEDIC] is an industry catalyst that facilitates innovation and adoption of digital technology into the healthcare sector.

Karumanchi is currently an intern at MEDIC and receives daily mentorship for her company. Her goal is to produce a minimal viable product for Smart Cane by December 2018. Karumanchi will also begin high school in September at White Oaks Secondary School and aspires to be a pediatrician in the future.

Contact Smart Cane

Phone: (416) 364-8495

Email: smartcaneteam@gmail.com

 

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