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Duke Students Receive 2021 Verizon and CGI U Social Innovation Award

Last week the Clinton Foundation and Verizon announced the winners of the 2021 Verizon and CGI U Social Innovation Challenge, providing awards to 14 teams developing leading-edge technology-based solutions to address significant societal challenges related to education, health, and climate justice.

Duke’s Alex Xu ’22, Franklin Boampong ’22, and Samarth Lamba ’22 won a grant for their project Peek AR, a technology to help deaf and hard-of-hearing students in the classroom through augmented reality and live captioning.

Franklin Boampong, Samarth Lamba, and Alex Xu

In addition to receiving funding, the team will participate in a hands-on entrepreneurial training program from startup accelerator partner VentureWell to develop a deep understanding of the need being addressed, identify gaps in current approaches, build and enhance technical aspects of the solution, and create a sustainable business model, with an opportunity to win additional seed funding and sponsorship at the end of the accelerator.

Launched in 2007, CGI U brings together students from around the globe annually to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges through “Commitments to Action” – new, specific, and measurable initiatives to improve education, environment and climate change, peace and human rights, poverty alleviation, and public health. Through the CGI U program, students develop innovative solutions to these challenges through peer networking, skills training, funding opportunities, and personalized mentorship with experts across business, philanthropy, government, and more.

Thoughts From the Team

“Developing technology solutions to provide more equitable access to education was a key theme of the competition. We approached this challenge by brainstorming potential barriers faced by students from underserved communities. As a group we had an interest in accessibility technologies, and we previously worked together on a hackathon project (that ended up winning!) on an idea about aiding the visually impaired through computer vision. Along those lines, we did more research about the challenges students with disabilities face, and thought this was a good next step in applying our engineering skills to solving accessibility problems.

“We feel incredibly excited and humbled [to win the award]. We are looking forward to the opportunity to learn and push the project forward. As a very technical team, we were worried about securing funding for building prototypes of our projects, but with this award we can focus on the technical work and build a great product.

“As engineering students it is very exciting to be able to leverage some of the skills we have learned in the classroom to make an impact. Samarth is interested in machine learning and some of its applications, while Franklin and Alex are also I&E students, so [this work] fits perfectly with our joint entrepreneurial interests.”

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