FORSYTH COUNTY -- The invention they said was so simple just won them $5,000.
The Braille Boys and Annie, a group of homeschooled middle school students from Forsyth County, took their robotics creation to the fifth annual FIRST Lego League Global Innovation Award ceremony on June 16. There they won second place out of more than 500 initial teams from across the world.
Insta-Braille is a sound module programmed with a voice recording for each letter of the alphabet.
Letter buttons containing a corresponding Braille character connect to the module so that when a child or adult who is visually impaired presses the Braille character, he or she can hear the letter the symbol means.
Through repetition of the first 26 Braille characters, the foundation of Braille, the language can be memorized.
One of the most appealing parts of the invention is that students do not need assistance of a sighted person or Braille teacher to learn how to read Braille.
“We’re either going to use [the $5,000] to develop the Insta-Braille or to start another idea or to get a patent on it,” said Annie Torre, a rising seventh-grader and part of the group’s namesake.
The event was held at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Va., where Dean Kamen, inventor and founder of FIRST honored the top three teams for their contemporary solutions to a real-world problem.
First, which stands For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, is a non-profit that inspires young people’s participation and interest in science and technology.
Torre said the local group, which returns today from Washington, D.C., has toured the city and explored monuments and museums, which she said was her favorite part.
“It was pretty awesome,” she said of their recognition. “And it was cool to see the statues of different people and the monuments. We did a night tour of D.C. when they were all lit up.”
A panel of judges reviews hundreds of submissions, narrowing the list to the last three.
As part of this year’s World Class Challenge, FIRST Lego League teams, comprised of students ages 9-16 from nearly 80 countries, were asked to explore the future of learning.
More than 260,000 children worldwide taught adults about the ways kids need and want to learn in the 21st century while developing actual tools to help others gather knowledge.
“Not only were these students embracing their creative problem-solving skills to help solve complex issues, they are actually teaching adults how to help students learn better and to thrive in and out of the classroom,” Kamen said.
Christine Torre, mother of Annie and Daniel, who is also on the team, said the children are sticking with the invention even after the competitions are over. The goal is to help real people.
They may send recycled Lego pieces from competitions to Kenya, where she said they met a man who told them there are 1 million blind children. They want to introduce robotics to those kids.
They also need to find a company to help make the circuit boards for the Insta-Braille, which is “the guts of the Insta-Braille.”
Part of the trip included meeting U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, whose District 7 includes south Forsyth, to discuss the invention and tour his office in the Capitol.
“It’s remarkable to see the ingenuity and innovation of these young people,” Woodall said. “At such an early age, they are already fantastic examples of what it means to use your abilities, work hard and help others while doing it.
“I was thrilled to have the opportunity to visit with them in person and am so proud of what they’ve done to this point. We’re fortunate to have them in Forsyth County, and I have no doubt they’ll continue to be tremendously successful.”
Case molding must come next, too, Christine Torre said.
“The wining team, which is from Indiana, they’ve made friends with each other because we’re in the same hotel. They’ve been swimming together, and they’ve played card games,” she said. “It’s just been a great experience.”