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A Vision for Service

Local student Omar Shareef is using technology to lend a helping hand to the visually impaired

The 17-year-old Saint Edward’s senior holds a provisional patent on a wearable device he invented.

The 17-year-old Saint Edward’s senior holds a provisional patent on a wearable device he invented.

When Omar Shareef was a second grader at Saint Edward’s School, his father asked him if he wanted one of the used computers that his office was discarding. He jumped at the opportunity. But the desktop model’s lifespan was short in the youngster’s hands after he took it apart to see how it worked. That he couldn’t put it back together in working order was one of the first computer challenges he faced — but probably one of the last he couldn’t master.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Now the 17-year-old high school senior holds a provisional patent on a wearable device he invented to increase the independence and social mobility of people who are visually impaired or blind. Shareef calls the device the Helping Hand, and, in layman’s terms, it operates with a tiny computer and camera mounted on the back of a glove. The camera transmits pictures of objects, faces or printed text to the computer, which sends the information to the wearer audibly through headphones.

Shareef made the Helping Hand using parts that cost around $65 and the knowledge he gained online to write the computer code. And he did this in his spare time.

“One great thing about my generation is that the resources that you need to learn are online,” Shareef says. “Of course, I took the AP (advanced placement) computer science course as a freshman in high school and later took other courses, but what I learned to build this device was entirely online. A lot of the artificial intelligence that I used is really cutting edge and I learned it from reading research papers and looking at university courses.”