Discover the Rising Stars №017 | Interview with Feng Xueling, Project Leader of Intelligent Guiding Equipment

Alibaba Cloud Innovation Center has introduced a new column, Discover the Rising Stars, to shed light on the backgrounds of entrepreneurs and company innovations. Through interviews, live streams, and other media approaches, we will deliver valuable news stories from multiple perspectives and dimensions, to offer you the real voices of entrepreneurs and to witness the power of technological innovations.

A growing figure of high-tech electromechanical products are benefiting people’s life thanks to technology developments. Yet a social issue arises behind the bright side: how are we going to utilize the new technologies and effectively brings changes to disadvantaged groups like the blind and the elder? From Shandong Liaocheng Vocational and Technical College, a group of college students decided to tackle with this issue since 2017, and with nearly a year of visit and research, the brought forth a series of intelligent guiding equipment for the blind like the intelligent guiding shoe plates and the intelligent guiding cane.

The 17th edition of Discover the Rising Stars interviewed Feng Xueling, the innovation prize of Create@Alibaba Cloud Startup Contest (CACSC) Shandong leg — Grand Final of W-Valley Innovation and Entrepreneurship Contest, uncovering the story behind this project led by a group of college students.

According to China Disabled Persons’ Federation (CDPF), there are over 82.96 million people with disabilities in China, one fifth of the world, and 17 million of them are with visual impairment. Yet the Chinese market for the aiding products is way below average in the world, let alone aiding products for those with visual impairment. What’s worse, a great many of the products are with rarely tech-integrated, rather single-functioned, only few can really meet the guiding demands. Comparing to the other markets, where countries like Britain has over 2,000 aiding products just for the blind, Feng Xueling sees the opportunity, “buying aiding products from abroad is quite expensive but the options are limited due to the fact that the domain market can’t provide the sufficed products, our advantage is at inventing the demanding equipment with affordable prices.”

Feng Xueling’s team has also a great mentor, Liu Qianjing, once named as an Outstanding Mentor on Shandong Technology Innovation Contest, owns over 30 patents. Feng Xueling is the project leader of the cloud-based intelligent guiding wearable equipment project; she has also won the second prize on the Chinese National Mathematical Modeling Competition and the silver prize of the 12th Challenge Cap: Shandong College Startup Contest.

Traditional guiding equipment is rather single-functioned, and guide dog has its own limits. Feng Xueling laid her sights on the wearables.

“We visited over 300 blinds to collect their needs and to better understand their difficulties in daily life, then with the advice from our mentor, we managed to build guiding shoe plates to provide better mobility for them,” said Feng Xueling. The technology behind this guiding shoe plates is a photoelectric detection system on an infrared photoelectric sensor. The sensor continues to measure the distance to the object ahead, then transits the information into optical signal. The signal then processed into electrical signal to trigger a buzzer to notify the wearer the existence of incoming obstacles. Hence, the function of obstacle avoidance. What’s more, the shoe plates are embedded with LEDs to alert the passers-by.

“The initial goal for this product is to aid the blind to safely pass the crosswalk, and its cloud-based,” said Feng Xueling. “But this can also provide aid to any visually impaired, elder, maybe even to those who addicts to smartphone.” The guiding plates have multiple sets of sensors and mapping capabilities, its flexible design is opted to fit any type or size of the shoes, now patented and receiving further cooperation from the nation-level.

The intelligent guiding cane came after the guiding plates, its build-in visual sensor can identify the traffic light signals, detect the frequency of light signals in its surroundings. The information is out-putted digitally to a micro-processor to make real-time decision for the blind to get through the crosswalk. The cane’s processor is a highly integrated SoC: 32 channel, GPS, GSM voice, and GPRS data all-in-one, with that, the user simply tells the cane where he wants to go, a safe route will be then arranged for him via cloud platform.

The cloud platform is more than just systematic, it is also a service platform. Feng Xueling told us that “we are not only looking to solve the mobility problems for the blind, we are building a sociable service platform for them.” Blind user’s account can be bind with he’s relatives, volunteers can also register to be a “yellow hat” to help the blind by selectively follow their account and keep track of their needs, while the bind relatives shall know who’s helping. The blind and the volunteers are both receiving their deserved attention on this application.

Looking forward, Feng Xueling’s team is working on the R&D of aiding glasses, wristband, and belt equipment, all the intelligent equipment will be connected as a loop of service system in the future.

“We first started on the intelligent guiding plates back in 2017, balancing on our study at college and research in the Liaocheng City Startup Incubator Base. Wining the innovation prize on CACSC is quite an achievement for us, the judges gave us a lot of solid advices on accelerating product upgrade and better compatibility,” said Feng. “Alibaba Cloud Innovation Platform being a service platform designed specifically for business innovation, is filled with plenty of particle and professional information for beginners like us.”

During the interview, Feng told us over 300 blinds’ information didn’t come with ease, the team tried many options, going to local blind massage shop, join blind chatgroup, and personally experience the life of the blind. They met lots of difficulties. “No business are like sailing in calm water, and every rainbow is behind the storms. Challenges lays at every corner, in data collecting, and in product R&D. One-by-one solving the problems granted us more and more confidence on success,” said Feng. When asked about entrepreneurship as college student, Feng told us that she us learn so much through it, not only in professional skills, but also in courage, and communicating skills.

Feng and her team are on a course of innovation and goodwill, leveraging technology to build an all-round service platform for the blind, casting lights for the disadvantaged groups, and contributing their part on filling the gap between China’s market of goods for persons with disabilities and the world.

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