Students’ prototype may light up eyes of the blind

Grade 12 pair offered chance to work with U of M biomedical engineering department


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Science class can be a bit dull for Caleb Turon and Matthew Hewlett.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/06/2017 (2057 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Science class can be a bit dull for Caleb Turon and Matthew Hewlett.

The Winnipeg Grade 12 students have engineered a prototype that could one day lead to individuals who have acquired blindness trading in their white canes for experimental eyeglasses.

As a result, they’ve been offered the opportunity to work with members of the University of Manitoba’s biomedical engineering department over the summer to develop their research in transcranial direct current stimulation as a visual prosthetic.

Grade 12 students Matthew Hewlett (left) and Caleb Turon developed special glasses that may assist those with acquired blindness.

The offer came from U of M’s Zahra Moussavi, director of biomedical engineering, following an impressive presentation delivered by the students from Linden Christian School (Turon) and Shaftesbury High School (Hewlett) at the annual research conference of the Canadian Medical and Biological Engineering Association.

They hope their research could lead to individuals benefiting from the special glasses.

“We’re very excited for that,” said Hewlett. “We’ve been doing this whole project by ourselves so far. This is the first time anyone has ever said that the work we’ve been doing is good and that they want to help.”

The pair, working on the project independently since Grade 8, hopes to be able to develop the technology with the help of U of M and to secure a provisional patent.

The offer to give a presentation at the research conference came after they won an award at the Manitoba School Science Symposium this year.

“As the special award judge, I personally viewed their project,” said Maryam Samiee, regional clinical engineer with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

“The topic itself was very advanced for high school students and their use of coding and background research was also impressive. We found their project very original.”

The glasses work by providing light stimulation, which individuals who have acquired blindness can detect, indicating the proximity of walls and objects around them.

The hope is to develop the glasses with facial-recognition technology so users will be able to identify people.

“We were really surprised by it (U of M’s offer),” said Turon. “We’ve had a lot of pride in the fact that we’ve been doing this all by ourselves. We were definitely surprised that they actually offered us jobs.

“I didn’t know you could get a job doing that sort of thing while still in high school or at this age.”

As of publication, the two have not been hired by U of M. However, they are in the process of setting up a meeting with the university to discuss the job offer and the nature of their work.

In 2014, the students found a bank machine operators manual online and used it to hack into a Bank of Montreal (BMO) ATM. They told BMO about the vulnerability to help the bank improve its security system and the story brought them international media attention.

Since then, Turon and Hewlett have continued to work on a number of projects, although their efforts have been focused on developing their experimental glasses.

“We just like to build things,” said Hewlett. “When looking into research in this field, we realized that we could develop the glasses and they’d be relatively simple from an engineering perspective.

“We’re very excited for the potential future applications. It is the only external device of this type that we are aware of.”


Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.


Updated on Monday, June 12, 2017 1:08 PM CDT: Corrects name of association, tweaks reference to job prospects.

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