On 15th and 16th September, we brought a group of student innovators to RNIB’s Techshare Europe 2016, Europe’s largest accessible technology conference. It was a real privilege to take part in the conference, a European-wide conference centred on the topic of technology and accessibility in work, rest and play. The event was held at the Glasgow Science Centre and attracted big brand names such as Microsoft, Netflix and O2. SIE’s brief was to challenge student innovators from Scottish colleges and universities to create new products and services that would enhance the lives of blind and partially-sighted people.
The eight groups of students started their allocated two days by speaking to event volunteers from RNIB and receiving advice from Google and Apple representatives. They also took part in focus groups with potential customers to immerse themselves in their customers’ worlds. The groups then defined a challenge, generated ideas and produced a rough prototype. At the end of the conference, the student teams pitched their ideas on-stage to conference delegates.
Our innovators have the opportunity to continue to work on their ideas with support from the SIE Business advisors.
Ann Davidson, SIE enterprise programme director,said: “We are very excited about this challenge, which will bring together students from a number of different disciplines. All of the teams will receive support from our business advisors and RNIB.
“The emphasis will be on technical solutions,not just apps. We expect to see innovations in areas like wearable technology,for example. We are giving the students space to be creative, to understandtheir customers, and come up with something that is really desirable.”
By the end of the conference, each team produced a rough prototype that will have a life beyond the event with a clear idea of what problem it is solving and why it is worthy of further exploration and support.
“There will be a clear framework that we will guide them through to get them to that position and give them the motivation to take their idea forward,” said Ann. “Innovation and industry experts will be on hand to mentor and coach them through the process.”
RNIB Scotland director Campbell Chalmers said modern technology has the potential to revolutionise the independence of people with low or no vision. “We want to ensure that the Digital Age opens up the same exciting possibilities for visually impaired people as it does for the sighted population,” he said. “That’s why this student challenge is very exciting.”
Around 188,000 people in Scotland are blind or have significant sight loss; around two million across the UK. At least 280 million people worldwide are visually impaired, of whom 39 million are blind.