STEM champions invent to help vision impaired


​​​​STEM MAD national champions – twins from St Vincent’s Primary School, Clear Island Waters, with their prototype Vision Buddy

​YEAR 6 Gold Coast twins Alexander and Sienna Earwicker have been recognised nationally for their invention to help vision impaired with everyday tasks.  

Their innovative prototype, known as Vision Buddy, was developed as part of the Australian-wide Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Making a Difference (MAD) competition that challenges students to not only be innovative and creative in the world of STEM, but for their efforts to have potential for real-world implications.  

Up against more than 50 teams from Catholic schools across the country, the brother and sister student duo from St Vincent’s Catholic Primary School in Clear Island Waters took home the Future is STEM Primary Award and the Best Assistive Device Award Primary, hosted in Melbourne.  

Alexander said Vision Buddy was an idea sparked from watching a fellow swimmer every afternoon struggle with common tasks at the pool. 

“As a competitive swimmer here on the Gold Coast, I would spend many hours swimming alongside my vision-impaired friend Anthony, who was training for the Paralympics,” Alexander said.  

“I would watch him struggle to navigate simple tasks independently, such as putting on his fins, walking into the pool and finding his kickboard.” 

After consulting with Vision Australia, the siblings developed a solution and prototype involving sensors that would attach to wearable items to “make everyday tasks easier for those with a vision impairment”.  

“We wanted to help my swim mate and others like him to be able to walk freely and confidently,” Alexander said. 

Made up of an ultrasonic sensor, breadboard, buzzeran Arduino board and the right coding, Sienna said Vision Buddy provides the wearer with a warning sound when things are too close.  

“When you put an object in front of the ultrasonic senor it will set off a beep or alarm,” Sienna said.  

This is because the transmitter is sending out ultrasonic waves which bump off an object and return to the receiver. All this technology is in the compact box which is attachable with Velcro onto glasses and shoes.”  

St Vincent’s Catholic Primary School Principal David Sewell said he was in awe and, along with the rest of the school community, staff and students, was extremely proud.  

“Their ability to innovate, their ability to empathise, and then their ability to allow technology to provide solutions for an issue in society such as that with visually impaired people is just outstanding,” Mr Sewell said.  

They’re showing an intellect and wisdom beyond their years. I am really proud. 

Mr Sewell said it’s through the integration of STEM learning and the catholic values that can help engage students more into this exciting field. 

“In our Catholic schools we have a strong Catholic Identity – so much can be gained when we’re looking at life and solutions in life through that catholic lens,” Mr Sewell said. 

STEM has been a long-standing focus here at the school and all the staff here have done a fantastic job in building children’s capacity.”  

It’s not about just collecting robots and other elements of technology, it’s about really developing an understanding of how science, technology, engineering and math, can be implemented to solve real-world problems. 

Particularly through initiatives likes STEM MAD, it gives students perspective and a deeper meaning into what they’re learning,” Mr Sewell said.  

With Alexander and Sienna working on their prototype for several months, along with their submission pitch video showcasing their idea, mum of the siblings Miranda said she was incredibly proud of the determination they showed, which has paid off.  

We lost our kitchen table for some time – they worked and worked, and when it didn’t work, they kept working some more and came up with what I think is a really good product,” Miranda said.  

“They’ve had so much support around them, and it’s definitely something they’ve learnt in their seven years here at the school – about giving back.”  

Read more about this year’s BCE STEM MAD experience:  

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