Software Engineering Shines at 2023 Innovation Expo

GuiDAR Serves as Guiding Light for Visually Impaired Community

Software Engineering major Francesca Severino '23 couldn't help but notice a member of her parish struggling to make his way around the building. The man did not grow up visually impaired but was now completely blind due to an unfortunate accident. He simply lacked the confidence to walk and feel the security that some have grown into as a fact of life.

Severino believed she could help, given the technical acumen she has gained as a student in Stevens' School of Systems and Enterprises.

"He’s very dependent on his mother to navigate his environment and he’s uncomfortable with his white cane as well," said Severino. "He’s always holding onto the wall. I thought, that’s a problem we could try solving, so what’s next?"

Fortunately, there was a clear way to kill two birds with one stone. Why not work with some of her fellow Software Engineering majors and devote their Senior Design project to seeking a solution for the visually impaired community.

The undergraduate team taking on the challenge includes Severino, Mehrab Syed '23, Hyeono Ju '23, Nylayah Jones '23 and Tyler Seliber '23, all of whom worked with faculty advisor Lu Xiao.

With a team in place, the group needed to gather information before determining a product solution. They started by contacting Phillip Gehman, director of Disability Services at Stevens. Gehman put them in contact with Robert Dahill, a second-year student in the School of Business, who is visually impaired.

After initial conversations with Dahill and the member of Severino's parish, some themes started to emerge. Among them: the traditional white cane is limited in scope, guide dogs are expensive and there was a desire for audio feedback describing the environment.

So, the team efforted to create a product that was affordable, accessible and interactive. That's how GuiDAR, a free iOS app, was conceived. iPhones are common in the visually impaired community due to the LiDAR sensor that uses light to detect distance between objects. The hardware was already there, they just needed a software solution to make it work. Now the team had to write requirements, code it, test it and refine it.

"We worked closely with Robby [Dahill] because he’s the only visually impaired student on campus, but he’s also living the same lifestyle that we are," said Jones. "So, when we’re designing this app from our perspective, it’s easy to go ask Robby for help. He was very instrumental and very honest with his feedback."

The app would use LiDAR to map the environment and provide audio and haptic feedback to the user. The primary roadblock that popped up during the creation and testing phases of GuiDAR was the issue of providing directional feedback.

Depending on the nature of the visually impaired subject, directional instructions could be confusing to one person but obvious to another.

"Providing direction was a challenge because someone who used to have full vision would have an understanding of things such as 20 degrees or 2 o’clock, but someone who has been impaired their whole life wouldn’t necessarily have that spatial awareness," said Ju. "So eventually we decided to make it simple and just use left, straight ahead, right; and above, middle and lower."

As GuiDAR progressed, refinements such as an ability to adjust the range detection between 2-15 feet and faster speech playback were added. In the end, the team was named one of the top 10 teams at the 2023 Innovation Expo, earning a place in the prestigious Ansary Entrepreneurship Competition, a “Shark Tank” style pitch competition with a $10,000 top prize, hosted by local entrepreneur Aaron Price.

The team is now graduating and moving on to the workforce or graduate school, but they still plan to be involved with GuiDAR going forward. No matter what happens with GuiDAR, the impressive work done here is a testament to the hands-on education Students receive at Stevens, including in the School of Systems and Enterprises.

"Stevens really teaches you how to learn and how to work together in groups. Everything we’ve done here was an entirely new experience for all of us," said Seliber. "None of us had experience with app development or user testing. We learned by doing it. These Senior Design projects don’t show off what you know so much as they showcase what you’re able to learn and how you’re able to absorb information and apply it. That’s one of the best things Stevens has to offer for its students."

The Software Engineering eFish n' Sea team at the 2023 Innovation Expo. From left to right: Vincent Tufo, Andrew Quinlan, Jonathan Morrone and Ryan Mercadante.The Software Engineering eFish n' Sea team at the 2023 Innovation Expo. From left to right: Vincent Tufo, Andrew Quinlan, Jonathan Morrone and Ryan Mercadante.

eFish n' Sea: Gamifying the Future of STEM Professionals

When it comes to software engineering, efficiency is crucial. That requires speed and stability working harmoniously.

One Senior Design team within Stevens' School of Systems and Enterprises is teaching concepts related to increasing efficiency to children in a fun way.

Andrew Quinlan '23, Ryan Mercadante '23, Jonathan Morrone '23 and Vincent Tufo '23, all Software Engineering majors, were presented this idea by faculty advisor Lu Xiao based on research related to common software inefficiencies plaguing the industry.

The team created eight engaging games that can be played online, breaking into two teams of two to write the software. They named their product eFish n' Sea, a play on words based on the nautical nature of the games.

"What we hope to achieve with these games is to teach children in the K-8 grad range about different concepts related to efficiency; how to do things as fast as possible in the best way possible," said Quinlan.

Although these are children's games, the primary goal is to instill the fundamental importance of efficiency without being explicitly saying as much. Once the games were functional, they needed a test audience. They found one in a fourth-grade class at Joseph F. Brandt Primary School in Hoboken, N.J.

The eFish n' Sea team received positive feedback from students and teachers and their product also was impressive enough to be selected as one of the top 10 teams at Stevens' 2023 Innovation Expo, joining fellow Software Engineering team GuiDAR in the Ansary Entrepreneurship Competition.

Going forward, the team plans to approach software companies about buying the product, selling companies on the long-term benefits of getting kids to think about efficiency and how it can help them in a variety of STEM-related field years down the road.

"For software engineering, specifically, these ideas would help them create software that is fast. At its essence, speed is the most important thing with software efficiency," said Quinlan. "People want their software to run fast. But efficiency like this is foundational to all STEM fields and it will help them wherever they go."