Blind people normally try to envision their environment, and the objects and people around them, through personal experiences or with the assistance of fellow humans. Petros Psyllos, a computer science student at the Bialystok University of Technology, realized that technology could provide the blind with many more ways to interpret their surroundings.
This led him to create MATIA, a portable device that is attached to your waist or neck with more than 14 sensors, and provides descriptions of an environment using words and music. The device connects to a smart phone, which processes the data, and provides information about types of obstacles and their locations. For example, “there is a bicycle 2m in front of you.” This device is not only useful for the visually impaired but also for those suffering from dementia and Alzheimers, and has resulted in Psyllos´ selection as one of MIT Technology Review´s Innovators Under 35 Poland 2016.
One of MATIA´s advantages is that it plays musical descriptions for its users and each item in its database has a different sound, and it therefore reduces the number of required verbal messages, enhancing its users´ experience. Furthermore, in emergency situations such as thefts, the device automatically calls for help. This is possible as even if the user´s mobile phone runs out of battery or is stolen, the basic functions such as the detection of obstacles or dangerous situations still works.
MATIA has already been successfully tested on more than 30 blind people, and Petros has received messages from people based in the US and France asking if they can use the technology. He is currently working on a new prototype, which will be smaller and cheaper, and therefore more accessible and user friendly, and the plan is to test it in cities across Poland in 2016. So far, the project has been sponsored by the Bialystok University of Technology and Polish foundations for the blind but Petros plans to attract further investment in 2017, and has already received a number of offers.
In the words of Peter Szymanski, the Innovators Under 35 Belgium 2016 jury member and founder of Silicon Valley Counsel, MATIA´s “benefits for its users are real” and the advance of this type of technology will “create opportunities for Petros to partner with others.”