Helping the Blind to Sail

Rebecca Patterson '18

Lisa Hachmann ‘18 just finished her first year at Olin and decided to stick around for the summer, working on a project with other Oliners under the lead of Professor Alex Morrow.  We recently got to talk to her about the details of their project, and what it’s like being on a research team at Olin.

Can you tell us a bit about the project that you are working on and your role on the team?
I'm working with Professor Morrow on the Blind Sailing Project. We are trying to create a navigational system that will give a blind sailor all the information he needs to sail practically alone- with only a sighted guide for safety, out of the way . I work heavily on the electrical and programming side of the project and make sure we have everything we need for the entire network of sensors and raspberry pi's.

The Blind Sailing Team: Jason Lan ‘18, Joe Kochevar ‘16, Lisa Hachmann ‘18, Duncan Michael ‘17, and Liz Sundsmo ‘18

What do you do in a typical day of work?
In a typical day of work, I come in and start coding right away. We've been working on two servers and a lot of clients, so a change in one code structure affects the rest of them, and it ends up to be a lot of coding. We also try to go sailing with a group of blind sailors that we’ve been working with once a week, but it depends on the weather.

What about this project do you feel is innovative?
This project is going headfirst into recreational adaptive technologies. Our eventual goal is to have a system that blind people can use to race in the Paralympics as soon as 2024 , with a sighted guide for safety/emergency situations. Our method of using a mixture of common programming tools and custom electronics to make a special system is quite innovative and forward-thinking.

Is there a particular class you've taken or set of skills you've gained while at Olin that prepared you for this work?
Last semester really prepared me for this type of job- specifically my Principles of Engineering (POE) and Software Design classes. POE taught me a lot of integration between software and hardware, while Software Design definitely taught me how to program in Python- from syntax to pair programming and code structure, and I've been heavily dependent on those skills this entire summer.

Part of the team sailing with blind sailor Amy and lead researcher Alex Morrow


In your free time, what do you do for fun?
Every two days after work, I go boxing! I go with a couple of other Olin women and we've practically taken over the Boston Boxing gym because we’re there so often. It's really fun, an incredible workout, and a great stress-reliever after a day of debugging.

What advice would you give to an Oliner who was looking for a summer internship?
Look twice at the options at Olin. I feel like it's a trend to try startups and big companies, but research is an entirely different environment of work that should also be tried. A lot of professors here have great projects that really engage their research students.





Posted in: Research