ACM Eugene L. Lawler Award for Prof. M. Balakrishnan, April 2019

Meenakshi Balakrishnan receives the ACM Eugene L. Lawler Award for Humanitarian Contributions within Computer Science and Informatics for research, development, and deployment of cost-effective embedded-system and software solutions addressing mobility and education challenges of the visually impaired in the developing world.

Balakrishnan, a professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, has dedicated more than a decade to addressing the challenges of the visually impaired by developing low-cost, computing technology-based solutions. Each of his devices has been developed by the meticulous integration of hardware, software, and firmware. His applications have not only improved the quality of life for countless people, but also have made their day-to-day lives dramatically safer. These technologies are especially valuable in the developing world, where there are fewer resources for the visually impaired.

Perhaps his best-known technology is the SmartCane project, which allows the visually impaired to detect items above their knees within a distance of 3 meters. Balakrishnan equipped the probing cane with ultrasonic ranging, wherein the cane conveys the distance of obstacles using vibrations. Balakrishnan has also worked tirelessly to bring the SmartCane to market at an affordable cost. Working with for-profit, nonprofit, and government organizations, he introduced the SmartCane at 5% of the cost of a comparable product in the West. Within India he has made over 70,000 devices available through government initiatives and 45 partner agencies. SmartCane has also won numerous awards, including the Best Paper Award at the International Conference on Mobility and Transport for Elderly and Disabled Citizens (TRANSED) 2010.

Additional technologies Balakrishnan and his lab have developed include the OnBoard bus identification and homing system, which helps the visually impaired identify bus routes and locate the entry door, and The Refreshable Braille, which allows the visually impaired to read digital text line-by-line through a tactile interface. The ACM Eugene L. Lawler Award for Humanitarian Contributions within Computer Science and Informatics recognizes an individual or group who has made a significant contribution through the use of computing technology. It is given once every two years, assuming that there are worthy recipients. The award is accompanied by a prize of $5,000.

Copyright © 2019 Department of Computer Science and Engineering. All Rights Reserved.