From volunteering to product pitches

Raven Sim is graduating from Waterloo Engineering this June with a degree in Com
Raven Sim is graduating from Waterloo Engineering this June with a degree in Computer Engineering
When Raven Sim receives her degree this June, it will mean the fulfilment of a long-held ambition. "I’ve known I wanted to be at Waterloo for computer engineering since Grade 4" Sim says. Her interest in the subject was ignited during an engineering summer camp and was later cemented when she learned about Waterloo’s co-op program.  

While completing a degree in Computer Engineering has always been a goal for Sim, the journey to graduation has led to unexpected opportunities and experiences. This April, she was part of a team that took their capstone project to the finals of the Norman Esch Entrepreneurship Awards for Capstone Design , where Sim pitched a product that was inspired by her own experiences of volunteering. 

Connection sparks passion for accessibility 

While volunteering with the Sunday school at her church during high school, Sim was asked to work with a six-year-old blind girl. She provided one-on-one support to help her thrive in a new situation. 

"I learned braille so that I could adapt some of the activities for her and helped her to integrate with the other kids," Sim says. "I was also able to have her attend some of the dance sessions that I taught, where I found the challenge of adapting my lessons really interesting... thinking about how to give her different kinds of non-visual cues." 

This experience ignited an interest in accessibility and got Sim thinking about the ways in which visually impaired people navigate the world. This interest was reinforced by a subsequent job shadowing opportunity at a company distributing braille typewriters and other technology to blind customers.  

Building and pitching 

When it was time for Sim’s Capstone Design project, which is the culmination of an undergraduate’s journey in the Faculty of Engineering, Sim was ready to take on this challenge.  

Braille Radar is a phone app and sensor combination that allows blind users to navigate unfamiliar indoor spaces and locate nearby braille signage. The app beeps or vibrates with increasing frequency to indicate proximity. The product aims to help improve the users’ independence and confidence in navigation, without sacrificing braille literacy.  

To make Braille Radar a reality, Sim enlisted the help of her classmates Justin Mendes, Andrei Paraschiv, Harsh Patel and Zeen Wang who worked as a team to refine the app and sensor to build a product with real benefits for blind people.  

The team went on to apply for the Esch Awards that offers support to creative and entrepreneurial students in the pursuit of research and development. During the crunch of final exams, the news that they made the finals and were guaranteed $5,000, was a surprise. "I didn’t realize how big the stakes were when I was applying," Sim says. "We had to think about how this project could become a viable business, we had to come up with some hard numbers." 

Working with a faculty consultant, the team was able to put together a pitch for the Esch finals, which was a highlight of their capstone design project.  

When asked about what’s next for Braille Radar, Sim says that the project is currently on hiatus, but affirms that there is potential for future development. "We all want to focus on getting settled in industry and making the transition from being a student," she says. "But it’s an idea that spawned a long time ago and I could definitely see bringing it back." 

Finding a new goal 

After graduation, Sim will start a full-time role with a former co-op employer, a digital forensics company that build tools for investigators and police officers. She credits her co-op terms with providing balance and new experiences through her time at Waterloo.  

"It gave me a chance to explore a bunch of different domains and avenues that I might not have known about," she says. "As someone who wanted to go to Waterloo since Grade 4, it helps to have a strong idea of what you are aiming for."  
Jack Weatherston