The blind captain’s journey

November 5, 2018

521 words 4 mins

Using IoT to Cross One of the Busiest Straits in the World

A Turkish native, Ahmet Ustunel grew up swimming, boating and fishing. He also lost his sight at age three, the result of an eye cancer called retinoblastoma. But Ahmet didn’t let that stop his love affair with the water. It’s what drove him to become the first blind man to successfully kayak across the Bosporus Strait, a narrow, high-traffic stretch of water in Turkey connecting Europe and Asia.

Inspired by the Greek myth of Phineus, the blind king who helped Jason and the Argonauts cross a dangerous sea, Ahmet explained, “If a blind person can guide sailors in the dark, I thought, then I can cross it by myself.”

The Bosporus Strait is one of the busiest crossings in the world filled with cargo ships, oil tankers, fishing boats, ferries and kayakers. Navigating the 2.5-miles of water  would take countless hours of training and advanced navigational technology to ensure a safe voyage.

Some 2,500 miles away, Marty Stone was already crafting a solution.

Marty is an Atlanta-based AT&T senior technical project manager. He’s also a volunteer member of HACEMOS, a STEM- and IoT-focused employee resource group. Since 2012, he’s been developing and testing a technology specifically aimed at helping blind people race kayaks in a straight line.

“If a blind person can guide sailors in the dark, I thought, then I can cross it by myself.”

Ahmet Ustunel

The IoT-powered technology, aptly nicknamed “Mr. Beep,” uses a series of audio buzzers that fit on rowers’ shoulders and beep to notify them to paddle left, right or straight.

Ahmet connected with Marty after hearing about Mr. Beep in the news. Marty jumped at the opportunity to help and quickly began working with Ahmet to build a more robust solution featuring a navigational system. But he knew it would take even more to get Ahmet over the finish line successfully.

That’s where the AT&T Foundry comes into the story. The Foundry team in Houston worked hand-in-hand with Marty’s group in HACEMOS to build upon the work they’d started. The HACEMOS team contributed open source hardware, software and off-the-shelf parts. The Foundry helped develop the navigational code to guide Ahmet. Together, they evolved the Mr. Beep technology Marty created and added voice capabilities. The system uses a small keyboard with Braille stickers. This was designed to help Ahmet start the system navigation, obtain information on heading and speed, and save trip data.

Ultimately, the team created a compact solution that Ahmet had onboard that provided directions via sound and a unit that vibrated on his shoulder. The system stored the waypoints along the route, knew when Ahmet reached one, and then directed him to the next one. All the while, a cloud-based navigational dashboard utilizing AT&T’S DataFlow IoT platform charted Ahmet’s journey in near-real time so his friends and family could track his progress.

On the morning of July 21, Ahmet completed his childhood dream – and in just under 20 minutes. His safe and successful journey is an encouraging reminder of how harnessing the power of IoT for Good and embracing a spirit of innovation can change people’s lives.

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