Rupert Powell

Finalist category: Digital Volunteer of the Year Award

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Digital Volunteer of the Year, Finalist, 2019

Rupert donates his professional skills as a volunteer at the charity Remap, alongside his full time work as the Scripting Support and Development Manager at Extron Electronics.  His volunteer role at Remap involves designing and custom-making equipment to help disabled people live more independent lives. Everything that Rupert has made provides a solution to an everyday problem when there is nothing commercially available. He works with the end-user throughout the design process and gives away the finished products free of charge.

Since he began volunteering in 2017, Rupert has helped with some of Remap’s biggest design challenges. One of these was set by Ian, a blind Liverpool supporter who wanted to watch his team play at Anfield. Ian is an avid Liverpool fan who always turns out to cheer on his local team. However, because he has mitochondrial dysfunction, he is severely visually impaired and is unable to see the action unfolding in front of him. Before he met Rupert, he relied on listening to the radio commentary to follow the action on the pitch.

Rupert specialises in audio visual technology and was keen to see if he could help. He met with Ian to explore what might be possible. Ian explained that he is able to see some images, but only if they are very large and high contrast. Rupert’s solution was to customise a virtual reality headset to incorporate an LCD video display, a Raspberry Pi and a camera with a powerful zoom lens. He also adapted a Playstation controller to allow Ian to control the device easily. He mounted the camera onto the headset so that wherever the user looks they get a high-contrast image on the internal LCD screen. The Raspberry Pi enhances the image further; not only does it zoom and focus the camera, it can also increase the contrast, freeze a frame, detect edges and reverse the colours as required. These features can be manually controlled by Ian via the Playstation controller.

Ian’s headset has been one of Remap’s most challenging projects, with Rupert working consistently on a series of prototypes to refine the design further. He has since been experimenting with mounting the various parts onto a ski helmet to make them more comfortable to wear. Additionally, he now has a 3D printer, so individual components can be made more easily.

Throughout the process, Rupert has consulted Ian to make sure the final design would be easy to use and meet his needs. The result has been so successful that Ian has given away early prototypes to friends and family, which is generating increased demand for Rupert to make more! Not only did Rupert donate his time and outstanding IT skills to us for this project, he has also given the finished headset (and its prototypes) to Ian for free. Ian’s vision is so poor that he is legally considered blind. Thanks to Rupert’s headset, he can watch his home team play at Anfield every weekend. He is no longer reliant on the radio commentary to follow the action because he can see it for himself.

Though it was originally designed for watching football matches, Ian also uses his headset for everyday activities like going to the shops. He is able to identify which shop he wants to go in from the other side of the high street. Inside the shop, he is able to read signage above the aisles, and scan the shelves for the item he wants. He no longer has to rely on other people to tell the difference between a can of custard and a can of beans!

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