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Team Tupa placed first at Texas A&M’s Invent for the Planet 2019. Their innovative technology for the visually impaired, combined with their passion for helping others, inspired them to create their own company, Tupan. | Video: Justin Baetge/ Texas A&M Engineering Communications

In 2019, Team Tupa from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, placed first at Texas A&M University’s Invent for the Planet (IFTP) competition. Their cutting-edge technology featured an extraordinary way to help the visually impaired navigate while walking, replacing a cane. Since winning, the team has experienced great success and recently launched their company, Tupan, featuring the product originally designed during IFTP.

“When we came back from Texas, we received a lot of positive feedback, the majority being from the visually impaired,” said Felipe Macedo, a member of the team. “Some of them just wanted to buy the version that was a prototype. We thought we created such a cool, functional and cheap technology. We decided to create Tupan to combine technology, accessibility and innovation in just one purpose to improve the quality of life of those people.” 

Invent for the Planet is a worldwide intensive design competition hosted by Texas A&M that focuses on finding helpful solutions to pressing global problems. Students form teams at their local universities and compete in a 48-hour competition, where they research and propose a solution, develop a prototype, create a business plan and pitch their product to a panel of renowned judges.  Winners at each university then submit a videotape of their presentation and send it to Texas A&M, where another set of judges selects the top five. These five teams are then asked to travel to Texas A&M where they compete head-to-head for the ultimate prizes.

“The intent of IFTP is to get the students to have an innovative and entrepreneurial mindset,” said Don Bailey, a coordinator for the competition. “I think that (IFTP) prepares the engineers for success better than any other program for their future careers.”

Team Tupa consisted of Macedo, Breno Ferreira, Caio De Lima, Giovanni Enokibara, Luã Guedes and Victor Hugo Benicio. The team included undergraduate and graduate students from both the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro and Centro Federal de Educação Tecnológica Celso Suckow da Fonseca. 

The team was inspired to help others through technology and used this as a catalyst to propel them to victory.

“We found passion in what we were doing,” said Ferreira. “Passion, empathy and hard-work from after IFTP until now. That's what brought us (here) today, to what we are. We believe that more than developing this equipment, we are creating something that really changes people's lives. We are impacting an entire social branch, and we are working on something that we really love.”

Team Tupa was the first Brazilian team to take first place. For their efforts, they were awarded $3,000 and recognition worldwide. On their flight home to Brazil, the students met one of their partners, III Comunicação, who believed in the product's tremendous potential. It was from there they began determining the future of their product. They traveled extensively in Brazil, showing the product at events and demonstrations and realized their desire to form a company.

“They found an enthusiasm and a passion for what they were trying to solve,” Bailey said. “They were able to put that passion forward in selling their product to everybody they talked to, because they believed in it and they truly wanted to go forward with it.”

Their company, Tupan, is selling a complete and working version of the technology drafted at IFTP. The technology itself is called Eva and was created as a modern and cost-friendly alternative to the walking stick that many visually impaired people use daily. The technology consists of a hat and a small pointer, which are equipped with sensors. Powered by rechargeable batteries, both devices can recognize obstacles and hazards within a range of two meters. The hat works through mechanical sensors that detect obstacles and send vibrations to the user, while the pointer works by electromagnetic waves.

“I think the biggest challenge that we've had is to transform our prototype that we made at Texas A&M into a final product and create our own technology,” said Macedo. “We created equipment that can work with visual impairments, and we wanted something else. We want to work not only with visual impairment and improve their quality of life in general, we also want to work with hearing impairments, work with autism and more disabilities.”

The team is expanding their brand and pride themselves on their company’s message. They want to be seen as an accessibility company, a company that helps improve quality of life and a company focused on innovation.

The team experienced many opportunities over the past two years that have stemmed from their experience at IFTP.

“This certainly opened many doors for us, was a really good career opportunity and brought us more than we expected,” said Ferreira. “We encourage people that are thinking about participating in next year’s competition, IFTP 2022, to participate. It maybe can bring you more than you expected.”

The next Invent for the Planet will take place in 2022.