Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of Arizona technology and innovation concerns a vision impaired students who used his condition as the impetus to develop a software program that helps helicopter pilots become more aware of their surroundings while flying in clouds or smoke. ASU student Bryan Duarte developed the program after losing his eyesight in a motorcycle accident. Bryan joins us now to talk about his work. It's good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.
Bryan Duarte: Thank you.
Ted Simons: Let's talk about this program for helicopter pilots. What exactly are we talking about?
Bryan Duarte: So what I did is I was asked to develop a threat awareness position system for Apache helicopter pilots, and what this would do would provide tones or sounds in a three-dimensional space around the helicopter when the helicopter pilot was not aware of what was around him. So threats.
Ted Simons: So basically a 3D audio, like in a 360-degree environment?
Bryan Duarte: Exactly. Three-dimensionally spacially. That's around, above, pretty much anywhere. So if you're up and there's a threat below you, you would hear it from down into your right. If it was above you, you'd hear it, in front of you, behind you.
Ted Simons: Is this the kind of thing that would be similar to some of the fancy cars that beep when you get close to a curb? Is that somewhat similar?
Bryan Duarte: It actually is somewhat similar to that. It's basically I created a sis theme would provide different pitch tones starting from 100 hertz up to 1 K. And what that would do is as the threat was in front it would pulsate, if it was behind it would be a steady tone. If it was closer or farther away it would play a higher pitched tone. Things of that sort. So the pilot would never have to take his eyes off of what he was focused on, whether he was making a drop, picking up people, in the battle zone, do you not want them to take their eyes off what they're focused on. So using audio I was able to create a system that would allow them to stay focused on what they were on visually while being completely aware of where a threat was and how instant I was to them.
Ted Simons: What inspired you to develop this software and talk about using things like sound and touch in the development?
Bryan Duarte: Obviously with me losing my sight I knew what it was like to be visual, and I knew what I had lost visually. I then began looking into how can I reproduce these visual cues now that I'm blind? And I found through touch and through hearing blind people gather probably 90% of their awareness around them, situationally. When I went to Lockheed martin I was asked to do something with audio. And I said, well, that's great because I've already been look to audio for nothing but blindness. So mapping, gaming, things like that. And it just so happened that they were looking for a way to provide cues to sighted individuals without needing their sight.
Ted Simons: This was again Lockheed Martin, this was an internship? And you worked at the Florida location? Correct?
Bryan Duarte: I sure did, yes.
Ted Simons: How do you get from, I got an idea, to Lockheed Martin saying, go with it, to having a result?
Bryan Duarte: That's a good question. That's a tough question. I would say I applied to Lockheed, I got hired with Lockheed, it wasn't clear until I got there the task I was going to be doing. In fact I got passed around without me knowing it before I got there. So where I was supposed to be and where I went were two different places because of brand-new project open and they said this guy has the knowledge you need, you should talk to him and get him. And I got on to the project, my supervisor comes to me the first day I'm there and says, we need to you develop a system that provides three-dimensional sound to a helicopter pilot based on threat awareness. And I looked at him and said, yes, sir.
Ted Simons: When do you start?
Bryan Duarte: When do I start? And he walked away. So I had to break it down. Break down what was needed, what I had, what I knew, what I didn't know. Since it had never been done before, it took a lot. I had to break it down into smaller chunks so I could handle what was there. I couldn't just Google three-dimensional awareness. It hadn't been done before. So it was a task.
Ted Simons: We should mention you lost your sight in a motorcycle accident in 2004. Fully recovered now except for the eyesight.
Bryan Duarte: Yes.
Ted Simons: With that in mind, going back -- How did your goals change? How did you redirect yourself after such a life-changing event?
Bryan Duarte: Definitely. I can say when I was sighted, there was one career field, one thing I was interested in, mechanical engineering. I really enjoyed, it was -- And was good at board drafting, auto CAD, drawing pictures and working pictures, mechanical working pictures. When I became blind I didn't think there was much of a market for a blind artist, if you will, so I had to switch gears. I still wanted to be innovative, I still wanted to use my problem solving skills and stand apart in that area, and I found that software was the way to go. I developed software now, I do pertain to accessibility, I do pertain to blindness, I do like to use things like audio and things that are open to anybody to use. But gears did shift. I lost my sight when I was 18, 2004, from a motorcycle accident. And went from mechanical to software, but I am very innovative with what I do, and my hope to -- I hope to get better.
Ted Simons: This isn't the only thing you do. You founded an ASU club for disabled athletes.
Bryan Duarte: I sure did.
Ted Simons: And you're also involved in student government.
Bryan Duarte: Yes.
Ted Simons: Where do you see yourself going from here? That's a lot of balls juggled in the air for you and your guide dog.
Bryan Duarte: Yeah. I see what you're saying. It is tough. I got involved in student government, I was elected into being a senator last semester. I did start a student wide organization at ASU called disabled athletes and allies, and I have twice a week a group of blind individuals that go to the gym at the polytechnic campus and we play global, a sport for blind people. A lot of stuff. I think where I see myself going, I would like a career with Lockheed Martin. I want to graduate, I'll graduate from ASU with applied computer science degree. I do in my spare time like to develop software that makes life -- I call it augmented humanity. I like to augment humanity. I like to make what isn't there, there for people who have or do not have the necessary senses if you will.
Ted Simons: My goodness. I'm sure regardless of what you want to do, you will be a success at it. You've already accomplished quite a bit already. Congratulations on the success with this particular program. And good luck to you in the future. Thanks for joining us.