Three Palestinian girls have developed a walking cane that utilizes infrared technology to alert blind people of obstacles and drop-offs, winning the girls a trip to a prestigious science fair in California.
Asil Abu Lil, 14, watched her blind aunt and uncle struggle to navigate the steep slopes and sidewalks of Nablus, a city in the northern part of the West Bank.
She and two classmates designed a beeping walking stick as a science project at their UN-funded girls' school.
They gathered spare parts from electronics stores around the West Bank, and patched together a cane that uses two infrared sensors, one front-facing and one in the tip of the cane, to detect obstacles and drop-offs.
The cane beeps when it passes over a hole or steps going downward.
Although various types of "laser canes" have existed since the early 1970s, the girls' design resolves a fundamental flaw in previous models by detecting holes in the ground, said Mark Uslan, director of the American Federation of the Blind's technology division.
A UN agency spokesperson described the girls as "the Albert Einsteins of tomorrow."
The invention beat dozens of other West Bank contestants and won them a trip to Intel Corp.'s youth science fair, to be held in San Jose, Calif., in May.
The three girls are the first Palestinians to participate in the prominent event, where students from more than 50 countries will compete, vying for the grand prize of $75,000.
"Of course, I want to go to America, but this project is important for the blind and we want it to help them," Asil said.
Despite being a key member of the winning team, Asil was almost left out of the trip. There was only money to send two girls to California.
After drawing lots, Asil was to stay behind.
UN workers heard this and pooled money last week to purchase an additional ticket. When Asil heard the news on Monday, she broke into tears, leaping up from the table to embrace her classmates.
"Even when I'll be old, I will remember this time forever," she said.