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Jul 01, 2023

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LDOT, winner of the 2023 Carroll Biz Challenge, was developed in a Westminster High School classroom by 17-year-old Derrick Day with guidance from business teacher Emily Brynes, 27, of Westminster. An

LDOT, winner of the 2023 Carroll Biz Challenge, was developed in a Westminster High School classroom by 17-year-old Derrick Day with guidance from business teacher Emily Brynes, 27, of Westminster.

An acronym for long-distance object tracker, LDOT is an app that uses artificial intelligence to verbally identify objects shown in a phone’s camera. Day, a rising senior at Westminster High who is blind, said he created the app for personal use. But when he took the Principals of Business Administration and Management course at Westminster High, Brynes empowered him to turn his creation into a viable business.

In addition to the $10,000 grand prize awarded by the panel of four judges, LDOT also won the 2023 People’s Choice Award by garnering the most votes from the live studio audience.

“Getting this prize, number one, makes me have 20 times more confidence in myself,” Day said. “And number two, it allows me to have money to do these great things, so it’s insanely awesome and I thank you all for your support. It means a whole lot.”

LDOT was one of five finalists selected to compete for prizes in the 12th annual Carroll Biz Challenge, run by the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce as a way to showcase local entrepreneurs and give them an opportunity to pitch their new business ideas. Day and Brynes entered the competition as a duo — each business in the challenge must include at least one person age 18 or older.

Described as “American Idol” meets “Shark Tank,” the Carroll Biz Challenge finale was held Thursday night at the Carroll Arts Center, 91 W. Main St., Westminster. Each finalist had five minutes to deliver a pitch and seven minutes to answer follow-up questions from judges.

Earlier this year an advisory committee had chosen the 2023 finalists from among 35 entries. Each was scored and deliberated upon by the committee before finalists were announced on June 20.

Day and Brynes wore matching white polo shirts emblazoned with the LDOT logo and black pants to the Biz Challenge finale. Brynes held a paper with notes as she clicked through their five-minute presentation, including a video depicting Day using LDOT to help secure a prom date. Day spoke to the judges confidently and articulately, without using a visual aid in his presentation.

This year’s grand prize also includes goods and services valued above $20,000, much of which supports commercial marketing, promotion and advertising. LDOT won a Chamber of Commerce membership valued at $330 and a plant from 2022 Carroll Biz Challenge winner BotaniGal valued at $100, among other items as a part of the package.

“Our startup costs come in, ironically, just around $10,000,” Brynes said, “with our biggest costs being securing our patent.”

The app uses an AI neural network — a machine learning program designed to let technology excel at a specific skill — to identify objects and how far away those objects are. Day said a data set containing thousands of pictures trained the app to recognize 128 obstacle classes, meaning it can determine 128 types of common objects and assess their distance from the camera.

One type of object LDOT can recognize is a so-called human rectangle, a silhouette that the app can determine to be the shape of a human body. LDOT can also know who a human is thanks to a facial recognition algorithm. Day said adding a person to be recognizable by LDOT’s algorithm is analogous to adding contact information to your phone. The 17-year-old did not create the algorithm, but did design the app to use it seamlessly.

LDOT describes the user’s surroundings using voice preferences from the voice-over app, which Day said blind iPhone users are almost certainly familiar with. The app has its own default voice for those who don’t use voice-over, which sounds much like Siri or Alexa. LDOT also reads signs and menus out loud.

“LDOT identifies and tracks objects, recognizes people and reads text,” Day said. “All you need is a phone with a camera and LDOT can be your eyes. It has helped me navigate my surroundings with competence and efficiency.”

The finale presentation addressed possible competition from Microsoft’s Seeing AI app, but Day said LDOT will offer more features and more reliability than the competition.

“Seeing AI constantly crashes,” Brynes said, “and we realize it’s really just a side project for Microsoft. It’s not something that they’re really generating a lot of energy into, so we think we can really make it a priority here. By the way, if you know Derrick, you know that he could be the next Microsoft.”

Microsoft uses Seeing AI to test technology that will later be used elsewhere, Day said, whereas LDOT has the advantage of being a self-contained end product.

Seeing AI is widely used because it is the only option for many blind people, Day said, and many in the blind community are relegated to whatever resources are provided by their school system, or other organizations.

LDOT users will be charged $25 per month after a seven-day free trial, after which they should understand how LDOT can improve their life, Brynes said. A handful of organizations support the blind community in purchasing this type of product, she added, and becoming a well-known insurance-covered service that doctors may recommend would be ideal.

The plan is to debut LDOT on the App Store in 2024, which will make 2025 the first official year of business. Brynes said the business is projected to generate $210,000 of gross profit in its first year.

The duo plans to promote the product at conventions for the blind. Day said LDOT is likely to add features in the near future, including a dropped object assistant, a currency counter, and a vehicle recognizer to help the blind navigate situations such as an Uber ride.

The finale was an entertaining evening — masters of ceremonies Jon Weetman and Vince Buscemi conducted the live event in the style of a 1970s game show after donning old clothes they discovered at the Carroll Arts Center during a semi-improvised comedy sketch.

The Carroll Biz Challenge is supported by donations from sponsors, Carroll County Chamber of Commerce President McMullin said, and the chamber is not and has no official relationship with any government entity.