Meet the Classy Cy­borgs

An In­no­va­tive Team of Kids Help­ing Vis­ually Im­paired Learn Braille Through Tech­nol­ogy

NOVO - - FEATURE: UPGRADING TO AN ULTRA HD TV - By Disha Prashar, Classy Cy­borgs Team Mem­ber

We are Classy Cy­borgs, a team of 10 kids, aged be­tween 13 and 15, from Aurora, On­tario. Our jour­ney of in­no­va­tion be­gan in Septem­ber 2014 when we signed up for a chal­lenge as a FIRST Lego League team. Our mis­sion is to lever­age tech­nol­ogy to help vis­ually im­paired chil­dren learn Braille. We have in­vented a method to solve this prob­lem with our en­gag­ing, fun and in­ter­ac­tive in­no­va­tion. Our so­lu­tion, called the Trea­sure Box Braille Learn­ing Sys­tem, de­liv­ers af­ford­able tech­nol­ogy by pair­ing learn­ing soft­ware with a por­ta­ble Braille sim­u­la­tor and a toy trea­sure box. Our unique value propo­si­tion is “kids de­sign­ing soft­ware for kids”. Orig­i­nally, we set out to de­velop an af­ford­able so­lu­tion to help the blind learn mu­sic, how­ever, re­search brought us face to face with an alarm­ing and com­pelling statis­tic: 35 mil­lion peo­ple world­wide are blind yet only 10% can read Braille. This is when we switched gears and de­cided to help bridge the glar­ing gap in Braille lit­er­acy. We part­nered with sev­eral in­dus­try lead­ers and or­ga­ni­za­tions, CNIB and Perkins School for the Blind, be­ing our key au­di­ence. We are deeply in­debted to NASA sci­en­tist Ayanna Howard for her guid­ance and lead­er­ship. The coach­ing, men­tor­ing, in­dus­try in­sights and di­rec­tion we re­ceive from th­ese in­valu­able re­sources, on an on­go­ing ba­sis, has been the cor­ner­stone of our jour­ney and ac­com­plish­ment.

An im­por­tant mile­stone along our jour­ney was our par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Global In­no­va­tion Award (GIA) Com­pe­ti­tion through FIRST Lego League. Out of the 527 global en­tries, we qual­i­fied as one of twenty semi-fi­nal­ists.

To help our evo­lu­tion, we part­nered with busi­ness ac­cel­er­a­tor ven­tureLAB, who helped us re­fine our pre­sen­ta­tion skills. ven­tureLAB is also con­nect­ing our team with in­dus­try and ed­u­ca­tional men­tors. We are their youngest clients.

Lead­ing up to the GIA com­pe­ti­tion, our Trea­sure Box Braille Learn­ing Sys­tem was high­lighted by na­tional cov­er­age in an in­ter­view on CTV on April 15th, 2015. We weren’t able to ad­vance to the next round of the GIA com­pe­ti­tion, how­ever, we had a great time in St Louis. Classy Cy­borgs is a Global In­no­va­tion Am­bas­sador for FIRST Lego League.

Win­ning $10,000 in the In­spired Minds Learn­ing Project com­pe­ti­tion as the “Cat­e­gory Win­ner Glob­al­iza­tion” was an­other sig­nif­i­cant achieve­ment for us in 2015. The sup­port from CST Con­sul­tants en­abled us to ac­cel­er­ate our prod­uct devel­op­ment, at­tract sup­port from key stake­hold­ers, file a patent and cre­ate mar­ket­ing ma­te­ri­als to raise aware­ness about our project. We are proud to be this year’s CST In­spired Minds Learn­ing Project 2nd place win­ner! Our team trav­elled to Cana­dian Schol­ar­ship Trust’s head of­fice in the sum­mer of 2016 to ac­cept our $50,000 award that will be put to­ward our prod­uct devel­op­ment. We are grate­ful to CST for believing in our team and for help­ing us make our ideas real.

To­day, Classy Cy­borgs is an in­cor­po­rated en­tity (Classy Cy­borgs Inc). Our cor­po­ra­tion has earned us cred­i­bil­ity within the in­no­va­tion sphere and has opened up sev­eral pub­lic in­ter­ac­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties and the abil­ity to par­tic­i­pate in ex­clu­sive speak­ing events in­clud­ing ven­tureLAB AGM, MedEdge Sum­mit, IBM Head­quar­ters, TAVES Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Show, OCE Dis­cov­ery & CNIB Na­tional Braille Con­fer­ence.

We are co-de­vel­op­ing our work­ing pro­to­type with York Univer­sity and are ex­cited about the in­cred­i­ble learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties through­out 2017.

We’ve had a fan­tas­tic and fun filled ex­pe­ri­ence thus far, and we are ex­cited about the ex­plo­sive po­ten­tial in the fu­ture. Our com­mit­ment to help blind learn braille has only grown stronger, with time.

Be­tween all of the speak­ing en­gage­ments, the con­fer­ences and ex­hi­bi­tions, var­i­ous meet­ings and in­ter­ac­tions with our part­ners, spon­sors, men­tors, par­ents, and most im­por­tantly, our coaches, our team is very grate­ful to ev­ery­one who has helped us along the way as none of this would be pos­si­ble without them.

For more in­for­ma­tion about our Trea­sure Box Braille Learn­ing Sys­tem, please visit www.classy­cy­borgs.org

by Marc Saltz­man

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