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New ‘i-belt’ invention a breakthrough for Deaf community

6 May 2016

New ‘i-belt’ invention a breakthrough for Deaf community

A new prototype device unveiled at an international engineering design competition held in Auckland not only helps Deaf people in emergency situations but also in their everyday life.

A team of Sri Lankan university students and engineers won the I Mech E Asia Pacific Design Competition for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing with their ‘i-belt’ invention; a lightweight wearable waist belt consisting of mini vibrators and microphones.

The competition, run by The Institute of Mechanical Engineers (I Mech E) and held at Callaghan Innovation, aims to address real-world problems through engineering design projects with the challenge this year to develop a solution for Deaf people.

Auckland Deaf Society’s recently appointed board member and competition Judge Mike Granger was well equipped to select the winning entry. Profoundly Deaf since birth, Granger is also an engineer at BECA where he has worked for the past 35 years as a Revit model designer. Granger tested various scenarios. “The i-belt device is a great solution for Deaf people, alerting them in an emergency if there’s a loud noise, if someone is at the door, or calling their name,” Mike Granger says.

“I’ve had many near miss accidents where I didn’t realise that emergency vehicles were passing nearby, couldn’t hear my daughters calling me, or see the doorbell or smoke alarm flash at home if I was outside or in a different room. The i-belt solves all these things,” he says.

The i-belt contains an inbuilt voice recognition system capable of reacting to known sounds, quickly alerting the wearer through a special pattern of vibration. The device works by picking up the accurate direction of the source of the noise or sound, translates this to a vibration in the belt that corresponds to the direction of the loud noise.

An example would be where a Deaf person was at risk from something overhead, and a separate person shouts the warning – the Deaf person would not hear the shout normally, but the i-belt would vibrate and cause the wearer to look around for a hazard – see the other person pointing towards them and also up into the air – and the message is safely and timely delivered.

“Although New Zealand society recognises the needs of Deaf people today more than they did in the past, better access to communication devices is needed to break through the barriers and eliminate the isolation. Technology and modern equipment play a crucial role in achieving this,” Mike Granger says.

Second and Third places went to Hong Kong for their device which would predominantly assist people to get the appropriate information whilst on public transport and to China for their filtering system to be used in an office environment.

All three finalists are looking to further develop their devices and then launch to market, initially in their home countries, but once developed, would be looking to expand their presence.

I Mech E Asia Pacific Design Competition was held in the lead up to New Zealand Sign Language Week (9-15th May 2016) which aims to raise awareness of the Deaf community and provide a platform for Deaf people to promote their culture and language. This year makes the 10th anniversary of sign language being recognised as an official language of New Zealand.


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