Smith-Kettlewell is proud and honored to announce that one of our recent alumni, Dr. Joshua Miele, has received a 2021 MacArthur Fellowship for his work in developing devices to enable blind and visually impaired people to access everyday technologies and digital information. Widely known as a “Genius Grant,” this prestigious award reflects Josh's achievements while he was a scientist at SKERI as well as his present work begun in 2019 at Amazon Lab126.
Josh started at SKERI in 2003 when he was completing his PhD in acoustics at UC Berkeley. He joined our NIDILRR Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) and studied electronics in Bill Gerrey's lab, becoming a post-doctoral Fellow upon completion of his degree. He was successful in obtaining an NRSA post-doctoral fellowship grant from the National Eye Institute (NEI).
Josh soon began initiating his own technology projects to benefit blind people. His first big success was development of the "TMAP" (Tactile Maps Automated Production) system, allowing a blind user to type in any address or street intersection in the USA and obtain a tactile map of the surrounding neighborhood, suitable for trip planning and navigation. This revolutionized the availability of tactile street maps for blind travelers, which had previously been available mainly on a custom, hand-made basis.
Next, Josh became interested in making videos accessible to blind viewers. He came up with another revolutionary concept to solve some of the long-standing problems in this field, including the copyright problem posed by the modification of existing films and videos for blind consumption. He developed a means whereby anyone could record a totally separate audio description, which could be accessed and played back on the Internet by any blind individual while simultaneously playing the video in question. With funding from NEI, NIDILRR, and the Department of Education this crowd-sourcing approach was developed into the "YouDescribe" system currently hosted at Smith-Kettlewell that has resulted in thousands of videos being made accessible.
Meanwhile, Josh conducted a series of studies to optimize auditory feedback cues for outputs of the class of accessible instruments and devices developed for blind users by Bill Gerrey and Tom Fowle in Smith-Kettlewell's Vocational Laboratory. In the area of mobility and navigation, Josh developed an iPhone app that replicates the user experience of the famous Talking Signs system developed earlier at the Smith-Kettlewell RERC and implemented in many locations around the world.
Another theme of Josh's research at SKERI was in making graphics more accessible to blind consumers, students, and scientists. This research included the use of a digital smartpen as a platform for creating and presenting audio/tactile graphics, and the Talking Tactile Tablet, created in collaboration with Touch Graphics, as a way of adding audio labels to existing tactile graphics. His Blind Arduino project, still active today, facilitates the involvement of blind students and hobbyists in the Maker Movement, designing and fabricating their own technology devices -- an extension of Smith-Kettlewell's pioneering work in Bill Gerrey's lab to train blind hobbyists and technicians to build their own electronic circuits.
Smith-Kettlewell is proud to have hosted Josh for over 15 years as he graduated from being a student to becoming a major force for innovation in accessibility for blind consumers. He is a most deserving recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship!