Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Bl-ink is Truly Bliss

By: Nur Mirrah Amit, First Year, Mass Media Management
(From left to right: Yu Zhaoxin, Lin Lin (leader) and Zhu Ying)
            All of their hard work, sweat, tears and fears finally came to an end on the 28th May 2011. And it was absolutely worth the wait.

            Three third-year students from the Diploma in Electronics, Computer and Communications Engineering course had the courage to create something entirely new for their final year project.

Led by Nanyang Polytechnic’s (NYP) Lecturer Mr Wong Chee Chein, the teams which consisted of Lin Lin (team leader), Yu Zhaoxin and Zhu Ying, underwent three months of hard work to create a software using Blissymbols. This handwriting recognition software helps individuals with cerebral palsy or autistic children to communicate more effectively with their caregivers and teachers.
   The team’s efforts were recognized when they won the Silver Award and $500 prize money at the Institute of Engineers Singapore (IES) Design competition in May.   

This annual competition aims to inculcate the importance of community service to the younger generation as well as to encourage them to think more for the less fortunate. This year would be its tenth IES Awards and NYP’s sixth year of participating.

“The Blissymbol language is more commonly used in European countries, Scandinavia, USA and Canada. Most Asian countries have little knowledge of this language. With our software, we hope we can work with the Blissymbolics Communication International (BCI) to promote this language and make communication easier,” said Lin Lin. “Even those who don’t know about it can learn it because we included the English translation.”

But how does Bl-ink (the software) actually work?

“It’s something similar to the Chinese writing software you usually get on the iPhones, only with another language in mind, with the use of ink technology,” said Zhaoxin.

As much as they’re proud of their final creation, no success comes easy. The team overcame several obstacles along the way.

There are many parts to the software. We started with one type of user interface, and needed to convert this into another user interface.  It took us a while to solve it,” said Lin Lin. “Also, Blissymbols are only recognized by a very small group of people. In computers, you have Unicode in which when you type something, it can be displayed on the computer screen. Blissymbols doesn’t have a Unicode. We had to customise some Unicode to allow the Blissymbols to appear on the computer screen. We drew the symbols ourselves and we built them into the Unicode.”

Why the name, ‘Bl-ink’?

“It stands for Blissymbols and ink – because the use of ink technology. We all came up with it together after much brainstorming,” said Zhu Ying.

The team will further enjoy the fruit of their labours.  At the end of July this year, the team of three whom are now all proud graduates of NYP, will be flying off to Thailand for the international exhibition of their unique creation.

“Coming out with a software from scratch was tough. But after you finally got it all done, you feel the satisfaction,” said Zhaoxin with relief.

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