Buzzclip – A Small Device Making A Big Impact
Taking after his grandmother, who was one of the school’s most dedicated supporters, Arjun Mali, along with his family, regularly volunteered at a blind school and orphanage in India. While they mainly contributed by preparing and serving food to the children, Arjun also spent time playing games and reading to the kids, many of whom were very near to his age.

Although the orphanage provides a safe haven for blind and partially sighted children to live and learn, Mali lamented that many grew up without ever setting foot outside of the compound. This was largely a result of the chaotic nature of the surrounding Indian streets and the local stigma associated with blindness.

Even when they’re old enough to pursue higher education, Mali said, many do not elect to do so, mainly due to their fear of traveling outside. After years of volunteering at the orphanage, this issue exacerbated Mali, but it wasn’t until he enrolled in the University of Toronto’s Techno program that he was able to do something about it.

The Beginning of iMerciv

While enrolled, Mali, along with longtime friend Bin Liu, launched a startup with the goal of improving quality of life for blind and partially sighted people. “What really inspired this venture,” says Mali, “was meeting a 19-year-old student called Sunita who wanted to continue her education. She would commute to a girl’s college about 35 minutes away from the orphanage and would constantly talk about her love of running.”

“Everyday on her way back from school,” continues Mali, “she would try and find a place where she could safely run as fast as she could. It took her seven months to carefully find a route to a field that was big enough for her to run free. That’s when I decided that I had to do something, anything, even if it could make life a little bit better for her and many other incredibly people like her.”

Through their involvement with U of T’s Banting & Best Centre for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, Mali and Liu developed iMerciv at Techno2014, an entrepreneurship training program hosted by the Impact Centre, which is just one of U of T’s nine campus-linked accelerator programs.

The Benefits of Buzzclip

After establishing their company, Mali and Liu’s first initiative was the development of Buzzclip. Buzzclip is a small, clip-on device capable of detecting obstacles in the path of blind and partially sighted users. It does so by utilizing vibrations that are meant to alert them to upcoming obstructions.

“Due to the social stigma attached with visual impairment,” says Liu, “for those who are partially sighted, there are no solutions at all. Many of these individuals tend to opt out of using a cane or guide dog as they do not want to stand out in public or be perceived as someone that needs help.”

This stigma is precisely what Mali and Liu are battling and, last December, Mali was proud to return to the school he spent so much time volunteering at as a kid in order to test his Buzzclip prototype.

“It was extremely rewarding,” said Mali, in reference to his triumphant return. “The kids and older students were amazed that they could so easily find people, walls, tables, chairs, and navigate around the building like they have never done before.” Still, he said, “there was a lot of emotion and excitement as well as many questions, the main one being: why didn’t you bring this to us before?”

A Continuing Effort

Despite their early success, Mali and Liu are quick to point out just how much remains to be done. For their part, they maintain lofty goals that, if previous efforts are any indication, they’ll have no problem achieving.

“Our goal is to create a long-lasting impact for communities living with blindness or partial sight, empowering them to lead a confident and independent life,” said Mali. “With the support we receive through this campaign, we can make this goal a reality and change the lives of millions of people living with vision loss across the world.”

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Posted by: DSR
Tuesday, March 1, 2016
Tag: Healthcare
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