A major focus of the Lab for Inclusive Entrepreneurship’s work is providing assistance to small businesses in Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. To that end, the Lab leverages Northeastern University’s Experiential Network, which matches student teams with sponsors to tackle business challenges. Thanks to a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the Lab can offer funding for these projects.

A prime example of this collaboration is the partnership between a student team from the College of Engineering and Samantha Johnson, the Founder and CEO of Tatum Robotics. Tatum Robotics specializes in the development of assistive technology for individuals with deafblindness. Their groundbreaking innovation is an anthropomorphic robotic arm that enables DeafBlind individuals to achieve independent communication through tactile signing. A beta launch of the product is scheduled for later this summer.

Johnson explained that the project presented a two-fold challenge: mapping signs from native DeafBlind signers onto the robot and developing an interface that allows users to interact with the device without relying on sight or hearing. To address this challenge, the students focused on motion tracking, gesture recognition, and sign segmentation. They utilized various camera equipment and wrote their own code to calibrate the cameras, accurately map key points for signing, and create a sign segmentation system. The EDA funding played a crucial role in acquiring the necessary camera equipment for the project.

According to Johnson, the students involved in the project demonstrated remarkable passion and dedication. They went above and beyond their coursework, taking the initiative to learn some American Sign Language and fully immerse themselves in the project. The experience was overwhelmingly positive, leading Tatum Robotics to plan continued collaboration with student teams from Northeastern in the future.