Vision impairment—the decreased ability to see that cannot be corrected by traditional means such as glasses— is pervasive both in the US and worldwide. A 2012 report by the United States National Center for Health Statistics cited that 20.6 million Americans aged 18 and older reported experiencing vision loss. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are 285 million people worldwide who are visually impaired.
The WHO also reports that about 90% of the world’s visually impaired live in low-income settings.
Marco Trujillo and Cuauhtli Padilla Arias experienced firsthand the impact vision loss has on children living in low-income settings while working at a school for blind children in Guadalajara, Mexico in 2012. Stunned by the shortage of accessible vision support services and technology, the two engineers set to work developing technology to help the children with whom they were working.
What they developed was a revolutionary wearable technology that employs sonar to assist visually impaired wearers by allowing them to better perceive their environment and avoid obstacles. Specifically, the SUNU Band uses sound waves to probe the area around the wearer and uses coded vibrations—or haptic feedback—to inform the wearer of nearby obstacles, increase awareness of their surroundings, and assist in overall navigation.
This novel wearable technology echo-locates objects with a 360-degree radius around the user, providing a graded vibration or “buzz,” depending on the distance and density of the obstacles nearby.
In 2013, Trujillo and Padilla brought Fabiola Suarez on board to serve as the team’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO) as well as to support research and development. In what would be a fateful twist it was Suarez who submitted SUNU’s application to an accelerator in Mexico with ties to the Boston based start-up competition MassChallenge. It was during their time at MassChallenge that they met their fourth team member, Fernando Albertorio.
Hailing from Puerto Rico and living in Boston, Albertorio, a MassChallenge mentor and entrepreneur, added his extensive expertise and experience to the group. Being visually impaired himself, Albertorio immediately realized the value and potential impact of the technology, as well as its diverse applications both locally and globally.
In October 2014, SUNU was named winner of the MassChallenge Gold program.
Splitting their time between Boston and Mexico, the SUNU team is now working on ramping up production of the SUNU Band in order to hit their mid-May 2016 target for delivery of their first five hundred units.
Working with their partners, Sinec Technologies, an original equipment manufacturer in Guadalajara Mexico, SUNU is able to rapidly develop and validate new products for their users. New products include the SUNU Tag, which utilizes sound to help visually impaired users track and locate personal items they have “tagged” via their SUNU Band or smartphone.
With a strong and ambitious international team, a MassChallenge win under their belts, and a pipeline of cool products in the wings, SUNU is poised to dramatically enrich the lives of visually impaired people across the world, from the blind children in Guadalajara, Mexico, to users right here in Boston, and beyond.
Dr. Steven Munevar is a data analyst and entrepreneur with a background spanning bioengineering, biomedical science, and business management. He is the founder and principal consultant at Munevar & Associates, Inc., a boutique life science consulting firm focused on early stage technology development and commercialization. In 2009, he launched Science Shaping Our World-SHOW an ongoing seminar and networking series that brings together multidisciplinary audiences and provides a platform highlighting advancements in translational research and development. Following his passion for technology and healthcare, in 2013 Dr. Munevar launched the Helix Bioscience Institute-HBI, a not-for-profit virtual research platform seeking to leverage data science tools and techniques toward accelerating translational research and addressing unmet healthcare need.
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