A team of Iowa State University engineering students has built a device that could help blind people recognize who’s around them — at home and at work.

Cresco native Mike Schmitt, who graduated from I-S-U in May, helped create what’s called RADVIS, Radio Auxiliary Detection for the Visually Impaired and Sighted.

Schmitt says it reads electronic tags carried by people and announces who is nearby through an earpiece worn by the blind person. Schmitt says the blind person could walk down the hallway or be sitting in their office and someone could come in and they’d hear that person’s name, or a designated sound effect, to know who’s approaching — while people who can see would normally just be able to look up and recognize the person.

Schmitt, who’s 22, explains how he and other members of the team came up with the plan to built RADVIS. Other products for the blind using Global Positioning Systems were being advertised on the Internet and they took off from those ideas. Schmitt says members of the I-S-U team consulted with officials from several agencies for the blind within Iowa to hone the product.

For now, he says the device has landed them in an international competition, but it likely won’t be on store shelves for blind folks to use anytime soon. The device’s range is very limited and it only can read tags that come within five inches. Eventually, technology may enable the RADVIS to become a marketable product with practical application.

Still, it’s enough to have earned the I-S-U team a slot in Microsoft Corporation’s “Windows Embedded Student Challenge.” They’re among 30 teams from around the world, competing against other finalists from Australia, Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Romania, Slovenia, Turkey and five other teams from the United States.

Schmitt and the others from I-S-U are traveling to Washington state later this week to demonstrate RADVIS. The others are: David Lawson of McHenry, Illinois, Adam Mishler of Monticello, Minnesota, and Andrew Riha of Cresco.