Aerospace company adapts technology for Royal Blind School pupils

Press Release | 05/03/2018

A futuristic piece of technology has been adapted by a leading aerospace company to help young blind pupils find their way to class.

Apprentices working at Edinburgh-based company, Leonardo, have adapted sensor technology to help Royal Blind School pupils who are wheelchair users to navigate around the school more easily.

Robbie uses the Smart PlatformThe apprentices have been working with the specialist school in Morningside to help find a way for vision impaired users of a computerised power wheelchair to navigate their way to the right classroom.

Apprentices work on the sensor technologyAt present, the school uses wall mounted signifiers to indicate to the pupils that they have arrived at the correct classroom. For example, a paintbrush indicates that a student has arrived at their art class.

However students who use the computerised power wheelchair (which is called a Smart platform and is supplied by Smile Rehab), currently rely on staff members to take the signifier off the wall and pass it to them to indicate they have arrived at the classroom.

Apprentices Macaulay Jarrett, Gavin Davis, Luke Smith and Scott Robertson have adapted existing sensor technology in a creative way. Radio Frequency tabs, similar to those found in central locking keys for cars and passports, will be positioned at pre-determined places on the white track which the Smart platform follows.

A sensor attached to the Smart platform will pick up the signal from these tabs and will process it and announce the name of the classroom the student has arrived at.

Apprentice, Macaulay Jarrett, said: “We decided we wanted to use a friendly familiar voice of one of the school staff for the sensor, to make the pupils feel more relaxed and at home. We visited the school and it was quite amazing to see how the pupils are able to manage and we feel proud to work with technology which will make them feel even more independent.”

It comes as organisations across Scotland are marking Apprenticeship Week, which celebrates the benefits apprenticeships bring to businesses, individuals and the economy.

Billy Barrowman, Apprentice Training Officer at Leonardo, said: “The apprentices really put their heart into this project, as I think they were incredibly impressed by the school and had a genuine desire to enhance the students’ quality of life.

They took a professional approach and with mentoring from Michael Gray, Senior Mechanical Engineer and myself, built the project from scratch, from gathering the bill of materials to exploring the best means of developing the sensor technology.”

The apprentices are hoping that an initial trial of the technology will lead to wider use of the sensors at the school to give the students greater independence.

It comes as organisations across the country celebrate Scottish Apprenticeship Week - Celebrating the benefits apprenticeships bring to businesses, individuals and the economy.

Clare Mackenzie, Occupational Therapist at the Edinburgh Royal Blind School, first decided to approach Leonardo Apprentices due to her existing knowledge of the sensor technology expertise at the business through her husband, who works at the Company as a Lead Engineer.

Clare said: “It’s been a great experience to work alongside the Leonardo Apprentices and helpful to get their engineering expertise in being able to move forward a project that will give a new dimension to the use of the Smart platform.”