Pictured: Henry Wu, Bishop-Wisecarver VP of Engineering and Anish Singhani

Don’t miss our first interview with Thomas Chow, senior level award winner.

With more than 200 students showcasing 145 projects, Anish Singhani still easily stood out from among the crowd and we wanted to share his story.

Anish, 13, was selected as the junior level Most Creative Award winner for his project on “An Indoor Navigation System for the Visually Impaired”.

Q: What was the main focus of your research?
AS: The purpose of my project is to help visually impaired people navigate in unfamiliar surroundings inside buildings. There are 285 million people worldwide who are visually impaired. Out of these, about 13.6% are fully blind, and the other 86.4% have low vision. World Access for the Blind, a nonprofit, says that movement is the biggest challenge for blind people. These people must often bring a caretaker or family member to help them navigate. There are no existing solutions that assist visually impaired people with navigating while they are inside buildings.

The purpose of my project is to create a solution, which allows visually impaired people to easily, accurately navigate inside buildings.

Q: What was your research process and solution?
AS: My solution consists of 4 parts. The first part, and the main part of my solution is the software solution I have created. This software will run on the user's phone, and it detects the BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) beacons that are installed around the building to calculate the user’s location. It also uses data from the phone's compass and a digital map of the building. After calculating the user's location, it calculates the route to the user's destination (which they choose using voice commands), and then gives the user audible directions to navigate to their destination.

The second part of my solution is BLE beacons. These are small, off the shelf, low cost Bluetooth transmitters that can be programmed to transmit certain values. These are detected by my software solution to calculate the user's location.

The third part of my solution is a BLE map storage hardware. This is a small device, created by me, which will be installed in the entrance of the door. It will store a digital map of the building, and when the user enters the building, my software on the user's smartphone will download the digital map wirelessly from this hardware.

The fourth part is a software program I created to allow the building manager to create this building map. They can use a simple, visual interface I created to input the data for the building and "draw" the walls, and then export it to the map storage hardware.

Q: Why did you select this topic to research?
AS: A few months ago, I met my mom’s uncle, who is 75 years old. His vision has become extremely low with age. He does not even know how to read braille, because he had almost normal vision before. Now, his biggest fear is navigating into unknown buildings when he needs to visit a doctor or some other office. I realized that there are probably many other people with the same problem.

After doing some research, I realized that indeed, this is a huge problem for many people around the world. I then began brainstorming and trying a few different technologies to see which would be the easiest for the user to use, and still be very accurate.

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of this project?
AS: The biggest challenge in my project was creating the algorithm to track the user's location. One major problem with this was the placement of the BLE (Bluetooth low energy) beacons. I first created my solution with very few beacons. I placed a beacon at each location where the user might want to turn (like locations where a traffic light would be placed, but indoors.) My app would then detect when the user was at one of those beacons, and tell them to turn.

The problem with this was that the user could not cancel navigation or change destination in the middle of navigation, because the location of the user was not always known to the app. It was also inaccurate. I then added more beacons, so a beacon would be mounted about every 4-5 feet in the building. I then rewrote my entire app (except for the beacon scanning), so it would navigate in a much more accurate way, and keep track of the user’s location constantly. I also had to write some code to smooth the fluctuating beacon values to make it more accurate.

Q: Have you participated in other science fairs?
AS: Yes, last year I entered into the Contra Costa Science Fair as well, and I won first place. I was also nominated for Broadcom Masters. From almost 6000 nominated students, I was among the 30 students who were selected as finalists from all across the United States. In Broadcom Masters national competition, I won the Rising Star Award, and in May, I will be one of the two students representing the US at Broadcom Masters International Science Fair in Phoenix. My project last year was a system for disabled/paralyzed people to control an electric wheelchair/virtual keyboard using their brainwaves.

Q: Congratulations and good luck at the Broadcom science fair! It sounds like you enjoy these types of challenges.
AS: Yes, I enjoy entering these types of events very much and being challenged to make a solution for a problem that could benefit people. I love researching these problems and exploring new technologies. In almost every project I create, I learn about at least one new technology/API/hardware device. I also enjoy building and programming technological solutions to these problems. These events also give me opportunity to meet new friends who are also interested in science and technology.

Q: What are your favorite classes in school?
AS: My favorite classes in school are actually math and science (mainly physics).

Q: When you aren’t working on science fair projects, what do you like to do?
AS: My favorite thing to do everyday is programming and creating technical projects or researching. I love reading and listening to audio books. My room is filled with technical books and magazines. I also participate in hackathons and programming competitions where I’ve won many awards and published several apps. I enjoy playing soccer, badminton and chess and play drums in the school band.