Meet Team Tactile: the Face of Millennial Inventors

Via Microsoft News Center

Welcome the new wave of inventors: Team Tactile.

Team Tactile is an all-female team of MIT undergraduate juniors who have developed the first portable real-time text to Braille converter prototype that will make printed text resources more accessible and affordable for the visually impaired. Hear about their source of inspiration, thoughts on breaking gender barriers within tech, and more in the interview below:

What inspired you all to get involved with the world of technology, and what advice do you have for any young women aspiring to break into the scene of technology but are unsure how to go about it? 

All of us became inspired to enter STEM in different ways. For most of us, questions about how the world worked and why things are they way they are led us naturally into engineering and technology. Technology seemed “magical,” and we wanted to be a part of the magic.

For any young woman aspiring to break into the scene of technology, it can be intimidating, but don’t let it scare you! For instance, when I first entered the field of mechanical engineering, I had never used machine shop tools before such as the mill, lathe, or CNC router. As someone inexperienced, these machines shop tools seemed terrifying; they stood larger than I was with fast spinning parts. But with experience, these tools became not-so-scary, and in fact, were a lot of fun and opened up a lot of creative possibilities. In short, I would have sorely regretted it if I had backed away from something that intimidated me. My advice would be to go for it! Try out things that you think are interesting and want to learn more about, and don’t forget to take advantage of the many resources around you. You’ll be surprised to find how willing people are to help out and provide mentorship, especially in academic settings. —Grace Li

Talk to us about Tactile, and the role it played for you with fostering your passion towards the space of social impact and technology.

We all have a strong desire for creating social impact, even since before college. In fact, that was one of the main reasons each of us came to MIT. We believed that, at MIT, we would have the best opportunity to foster our interests in both technology and social impact. Tactile combines our technical skills and knowledge with our passion for making the world a better place. Throughout the process, this passion has only grown. We have received tremendous encouragement from people involved in the visually impaired community, including our mentor Paul Parravano, the Perkins School for the Blind, the Carroll Center for the Blind, and others working on assistive technology. Their excitement over Tactile has further validated our efforts and motivated us to continue the development of our product. —Tania Yu

We're all about women's empowerment here at Her Campus, so what are some ways we can engage women into the space of innovation and how has the Patent Program helped to encourage this?

In order to engage women into the space of innovation, we need to empower women and let them believe that they have the ability to solve problems in this world. But innovative ideas themselves are not enough; realizing the ideas is another difficult challenge. Therefore, we should encourage more women to go into STEM so they can learn the basic science, math and engineering skills needed to build their innovations. We believe that the key of empowering women to generate innovative ideas and realize these ideas is building a community of women innovators in the space of innovation. The purpose of the Microsoft Patent Program to foster this community of women innovators that serve as role models and provide support for future women inventors. —Bonnie Wang

What is one key takeaway you would like to share with your journey as Team Tactile?

One of my key takeaways with my journey on Team Tactile is to keep trying. Sometimes when we start discussing different design concepts, we get bogged down with worrying about the nitty gritty details and end up not reaching a decision. I learned that the best way to test an idea is to try it. Make it, test it, and keep iterating to make it better. —Charlene Xia

A key takeaway I’ve learned during this journey is to not be afraid of asking for help. In developing Tactile, we reached out to industry professionals and professors in the fields of physics, mechanical engineering, materials science, and electrical engineering for mentorship. We were surprised to find how willing people were to help out, and we could not have gotten this far without their help and expertise. —Grace Li

I have learned about how important it is to work in a team. Tactile is only possible because our team works together. Not only do we each have different technical skills required to make Tactile, but we also all think and approach problems differently. Each of our unique perspectives makes overcoming challenges easier because we are not stuck thinking in just one way or mindset. —Jialin Shi

One of the key takeaways that I have learned is that life is full of unexpected opportunities. When we started Tactile, we thought of Tactile as a fun weekend hackathon project that we can work on as a group of close friends. But now it has grown to something so much bigger because of the many opportunities that were presented to us throughout the journey by our mentors, friends, and competitions. If we didn’t act upon and pursue those opportunities that were presented to us, we would have never been able to achieve what we have now.  —Bonnie Wang

An important takeaway is being unafraid of failure. Along the way we have attempted unsuccessful mechanisms and designs, and we have learned it is better to try and fail fast rather than to get stuck on an idea. It can be discouraging when something does not work, but the best response is to learn from our mistakes and move forward. - Tania Yu

One of the key takeaways that I have learned is to never give up. We faced several unexpected challenges throughout the hackathon, but by reaching out to the mentors at the hackathon, and trying out different approaches, our project came together in the last few minutes of the competition. - Chandani Doshi