NEWS: Ruvolo and Michalka Awarded NSF Grant to Participate in I-Corps Program

May 14, 2024 

Paul Ruvolo, Associate Professor of Computer Science and Sam Michalka, Associate Professor of Computational Neuroscience and Engineering, have been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant of $50,000 to participate in the I-Corps program.

Olin faculty Dr. Paul Ruvolo and Sam Michalka's headshots

NSF's Innovation Corps (I-Corps™) program is an immersive, entrepreneurial training program that facilitates the transformation of invention to impact. According to their website, the "immersive, seven-week experiential training program prepares scientists and engineers to extend their focus beyond the university laboratory — accelerating the economic and societal benefits of NSF-funded and other basic research projects that are ready to move toward commercialization."

The project is entitled "I-Corps: Translation Potential of a Crowdsourced System to Support Widely-Available, Accessible Wayfinding."

In other words, the award of the $50,000 and participation in the program will aid in the study of the product-market fit for Ruvolo and Michalka's navigation technology, which is designed to help blind people navigate indoor and outdoor environments with ease.

"The I-Corps program is a great opportunity for us to practice what we preach to our students, which is to get out of the building and test your assumptions by interacting with the outside world,” says Ruvolo. 

Alongside Olin students and in partnership with members of the blind community from all around the world, Ruvolo and Michalka have been at the forefront of exploring how to use emerging mobile technologies to enable radical improvements in access to physical spaces for people who are blind. 

In 2022 and 2023, Michalka and Ruvolo worked alongside professors Caitrin Lynch, Alessandra Ferzoco, and Cassandra Xavier to create the class Social Technology Enterprise with Purpose (STEP) as an impact-oriented educational experience. Through this course, students developed technology for folks who are blind, practiced human-centered design, and explored the market landscape. This worked culminated with a presentation to the Perkins School for the Blind’s Howe Innovation Center where the class demonstrated their navigation technology.

Watch this video from Perkins to see the technology in action.

An opportunity to collaborate

Ruvolo and Michalka, who also co-direct HAL (Human Augmentation Lab) at Olin, are looking to connect with people who manage spaces that might be improved by mapping them with their technology (this could be schools, retail spaces, office environments, etc.). Specifically, the Olin faculty members would like to do a 20-minute interview with folks who meet this description to advance their market research (one of the requirements of the I-Corps program is to do 100 such interviews).

Collaborate with Olin Researchers

Do you manage a space that might be improved by mapping it with this technology? Click the button below and send the team an email.

Connect with the project leads

Founded in 1997, Olin instills passion and ignites innovation in its students and prepares them to envision, create and deliver products, services, and systems that transform and improve people’s lives around the world. Olin teaches students to be explorers and creators who design their own path forward. By challenging norms and sharing its unique approach to education, Olin is revolutionizing the way engineers, and all undergraduates, learn and create knowledge. Located in Needham Massachusetts, Olin is ranked among the top-three undergraduate engineering programs in the country by U.S. News & World Report.