News Release

Filipa Rocha named finalist for the 2023 Young Inventors Award

Grant and Award Announcement

Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon

Filipa Rocha named as a finalist for the Young Inventors Prize 2023

image: Filipa Rocha named as a finalist for the Young Inventors Prize 2023 view more 

Credit: European Patent Office.

Filipa Rocha, PhD student at the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon and teaching assistant at Instituto Superior Técnico (Técnico Lisboa) in Portugal, has developed a system that uses tangible blocks to promote inclusive digital learning for visually impaired children, thus teaching digital literacy and eliminating educational barriers. This work earned her the nomination as a finalist in the 2023 edition of the Young Inventors Award, established by the European Patent Office. The winner will be known on July 4, 2023, at the live broadcast ceremony that will take place in Valencia, Spain.

Approximately 90 million children and teenagers worldwide live with some form of sight loss, according to the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness. Teachers and parents of children with visual impairments have difficulties finding mainstream educational tools and toys which they do not have to adapt. Filipa de Sousa Rocha has invented a block-based coding system to tackle the issue while democratizing access to digital education.  

Filipa Rocha has been named as one of three finalists for the second edition of the Young Inventors Prize, which the European Patent Office established to inspire the next generation of inventors. The prize recognizes young innovators aged 30 or under who have developed technological solutions to tackle global problems and help reach the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Filipa Rocha’s work in improving access to education contributes to UN SDG 4: Quality Education and UN SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities. 

“I think it is very important that we create accessible and inclusive technologies for everyone, regardless of abilities or disabilities. This means ensuring that the technology we develop can be used by people who are visually impaired or blind, for example, or by people with mobility or dexterity problems”, says Filipa Rocha.

Filipa Rocha is developing her research at LASIGE and at the Interactive Technologies Institute, under the supervision of researchers Tiago Guerreiro (Ciências ULisboa) and Hugo Nicolau (Técnico Lisboa).

The foundation of her work is block-based coding – a programming language where the developer builds sequences of instructions by dragging and dropping blocks on a monitor. The blocks are decorated with 3D foam icons. These icons represent directional movement or speaking functions used to command a robot’s behavior. Using these blocks, children with visual impairment can control the robot, as if they were playing a drag-and-drop computer game. Filipa Rocha calls this invention ‘Block-based Accessible Tangible Programming Systems’ or BATS.  

The prototype of the BATS learning tool took less than a year to create. It was tested remotely with five families of visually impaired children between 6 and 12 years old during the COVID-19 pandemic. Having almost no funding for the project, Filipa Rocha relied on building relationships with schools, associations, and families to bring her concept to life. Participating families suggested adding more blocks for training other concepts, like geography or mathematics. Filipa Rocha's work has made significant strides in making computational thinking accessible to all, particularly visually impaired and blind children. 

Through her work, Filipa Rocha has shared her passion for education by teaching digital literacy through play, bringing a smile to young people's faces as they develop skills like computer programming.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.