Students’ Concept for Mobility App for the Blind Wins National Challenge from Toyota and Net Impact

Summer Internship for Winning Team to Advance App Concept and Support Toyota’s Partner Robotics Work
 
May 25, 2016
Plano, Texas (May 25, 2016) -- Imagine an average commute. Perhaps you wait for a bus, walk through crowded streets and ride an elevator up to your office. Now, imagine doing it without being able to see clearly or even at all.  
 
A team of students did just that and came up with an idea for a solution that won first prize in the Next Generation Mobility Challenge, a new competition to inspire millennials to address critical mobility needs from Net Impact, Toyota and the Toyota Mobility Foundation. The students’ winning concept, StreetSmart, is an app that would help people who are blind or visually impaired navigate their surroundings with greater confidence. The winning students are: Esther Kim (Rhode Island School of Design), John Mathai (Olin College), Ayush Singhal (Babson College) and Niklaus Sugiri (Babson College). 
 
Activated by voice command, the StreetSmart app would provide users with audio alerts about upcoming hazards or changes to their commute, such as broken escalators, bus service changes and construction sites. It would rely on existing GPS location services, crowd-sourcing traffic technologies and real-time updates from users on routes’ conditions.  
 
The team envisions that the app would work in tandem with Project BLAID, a wearable device in development by Toyota that also works to improve the mobility of people who are blind and visually impaired. For a preview of Project BLAID, visit TheToyotaEffect.com to access a short video of an early-stage version of the device.
 
“Toyota launched the Next Generation Mobility Challenge with Net Impact because we want to inspire millennials to join us in solving the most critical mobility issues facing us all,” said Latondra Newton, Chief Program Officer, Toyota Mobility Foundation. “We loved the StreetSmart concept because it builds on our work to help communities with limited mobility do more so they can go more places and live better lives. We congratulate the winners and thank them for their creativity, smarts and hard work!”
 
“We are thrilled that Toyota is leveraging the talents and passions of young people through this challenge,” says Liz Maw, CEO, Net Impact. “We applaud the StreetSmart team for designing a solution with an eye towards scaling for social impact.”
 
Nearly 670 students from 60 colleges and universities across the country participated in fifteen campus events during the Challenge, pitching 154 ideas. A panel of judges from Toyota and Net Impact selected StreetSmart’s winning concept from three finalist teams, based on the clarity of goal, project design, social impact, feasibility, creativity and the results of a public vote. StreetSmart’s video pitch garnered 63.6% of the public vote. 
 
The winning team has been offered internships to delve into a deeper understanding of the mobility needs of the blind community, build the business case for the StreetSmart app and support Toyota’s Partner Robotics work to advance the freedom of mobility for all. Kim, Mathai, Singhal and Sugiri – along with two finalist teams – will have the opportunity to attend the 2016 Net Impact Conference in Philadelphia this November on behalf of Toyota.
 
In addition to local faculty and experts, more than 50 Toyota team members engaged with the Challenge, including Kristen Tabar, vice president of the Technical Strategy Planning Office at Toyota Technical Center (TTC). In addition to being on-the-ground at the chapter events to help students develop their solutions, Toyota team members served as judges, selecting the chapter winners, the three finalists and the ultimate winner. The three finalists had the opportunity to meet with Toyota mentors to refine their proposals.
 
The other finalist teams were:
  • University of Oregon and Oregon State students Carolyn Taclas, Keala Verigan, Sydney Quinton-Cox and James Greisen, who conceived a mobile community center to offer a range of pop-up services to meet community needs; and
  • Northwestern University and University of Illinois students Maria McKiever, Szymon Gluc and Shangyanyan Li, who devised a system that would allow drivers to offer their car trunks to others for hire as mobile mailboxes.
About the Next Generation Mobility Challenge
 
Launched in 2015, The Next Generation Mobility Challenge is a competition from Toyota and Net Impact to inspire millennials to develop solutions for critical mobility needs in local communities and around the world. Held at fifteen university campuses across the country, the challenge invites multi-disciplinary teams of students to participate in half-day design sprints to develop solutions for mobility issues that address community, connectivity, or sustainability. Local transportation and technology experts from Toyota and universities provided feedback and real-world perspective to the students’ concepts. 
 
Toyota is executing the challenge through Toyota Motor North America and the Toyota Mobility Foundation (TMF), which was created by Toyota in 2014 to help more people go more places – safely, easily and sustainably – so they can live better lives no matter where they are.
 
About Toyota
 
Toyota (NYSE:TM), the world's top automaker and creator of the Prius and the Mirai fuel cell vehicle, is committed to building vehicles for the way people live through our Toyota, Lexus and Scion brands.  Over the past 50 years, we’ve built more than 30 million cars and trucks in North America, where we operate 14 manufacturing plants (10 in the U.S.) and directly employ more than 44,000 people (more than 34,000 in the U.S.). Our 1,800 North American dealerships (1,500 in the U.S.) sold more than 2.8 million cars and trucks (nearly 2.5 million in the U.S.) in 2015 – and about 80 percent of all Toyota vehicles sold over the past 20 years are still on the road today.  
 
Toyota partners with philanthropic organizations across the country. As part of this commitment, we share the company’s extensive know-how garnered from building great cars and trucks to help community organizations and other nonprofits expand their ability to do good. For more information about Toyota, visit www.toyotanewsroom.com.  
 
About Toyota Mobility Foundation
 
The Toyota Mobility Foundation was established in August 2014 to support the development of a more mobile society. The Foundation aims to support strong mobility systems while eliminating disparities in mobility. It utilizes Toyota's expertise in technology, safety, and the environment, working in partnership with universities, governments, non-profit organizations, research institutions and other organizations to address mobility issues around the world. Programs include resolving urban transportation problems, expanding the utilization of personal mobility, and developing solutions for next generation mobility.
 
About Net Impact
 
Net Impact is the world’s best training ground for the next generation of change agents. Our programs—delivered from our headquarters in Oakland, CA, as well as globally through our 300+ chapters—connect our members to the skills, experiences and people that will allow them to have the greatest impact. With over 100,000 members, Net Impact takes on social challenges, protects the environment, invents new products and orients business toward the greater good. In short, we help our members turn their passions into a lifetime of world-changing action. Visit www.netimpact.org.
 
Media Contacts
For Toyota
Amy Schultz, amy.schultz@finsbury.com, (646) 805-2825
 
Net Impact
Catherine Muriel, cmuriel@netimpact.org, (415) 495-4230 x314
 
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