People ProfilesMay 28, 2024

Meet the robotics engineer building glasses to empower the blind

Elena Pop is on a journey to leverage her robotics skills to better the world for everyone in it.
Avatar Dassault Systèmes

Elena Pop’s career is just starting, and she has already made a difference in the world.

As the young, spunky and energetic Hardware Lead at .lumen (pronounced “dot lumen”), a research startup building glasses that empower visually impaired people to live a better life, Pop epitomizes intellect and innovation.

While traveling to Germany to complete her Master’s thesis at the prestigious Technical University of Cluj-Napoca in Romania, Pop met .lumen’s CEO and Founder, Cornel Amariei. He was impressed by her expertise in robotics and design and the fact that they both had big ideas for changing the world.

At the time, .lumen was just an idea to help the visually impaired, and the technology she now works with on a daily basis had yet to reach maturity. However, after learning more about Amariei’s vision and ambition to grow his company – and to help those in need – Pop considered the startup path and accepted an offer to work for .lumen. That decision has enabled Pop to grow into the professional she is today, building a future that empowers people with visual impairments to understand the world around them.

“.lumen was six months old at the time,” when Pop was hired, she explained. “I was really excited to be part of the project from the beginning and now, here I am, and this company has become a very important part of my life.”

Empowering the blind

Approximately 2.2 billion people live with a vision impairment, and over 40 million of those individuals are completely blind. Despite these numbers, the solutions for providing mobility and assistance to these individuals are limited and not particularly scalable. Although guide dogs are the best option available to many people with visual impairments, .lumen’s research estimates that only 28,000 guide dogs are available for work worldwide, leaving countless people without the support they need to help navigate the world around them.

.lumen’s glasses combine self-driving and haptic technology to guide their blind wearers in the correct direction and away from obstacles. Interpreting and understanding the wearer’s surroundings over 100 times every second, the glasses discern where walking is safe (and where it is not). For instance, they keep the user on the sidewalk and away from the road, puddles, mud or other unsafe obstacles.

At .lumen, Pop’s role as hardware lead resonates with her love of innovation, precision and the ability to have fun experimenting with new technology. It is this work that will make .lumen more accessible than a guide dog—and Pop, along with her team, is already on the way to achieving that goal.

Elena Pop and two other members of the team at .lumen - Dassault Systemes blog
Elena Pop and two other members of the team at .lumen

Given the responsibility of creating complex hardware for the innovative systems that make .lumen glasses, Pop carefully works to balance both form and function to ensure safety and effectiveness in various environments, from dry deserts to icy terrains.

Her approach reflects that of a skilled craftsman, enhanced by her dedication to inclusivity and accessibility.

“I am trying to do the best I can in everything I do here every day,” Pop said. “This role has taught me a lot about the importance of critical thinking, doing research and finding solutions. I don’t think any other job would allow me to do this much problem-solving creatively.”

As a member of Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE Lab, .lumen can access various technologies, like SOLIDWORKS and CATIA, for free, allowing them to create continuous 3D models and prototype updates. With help from the lab, .lumen can shorten their time to market, therefore more quickly empowering visually impaired wearers to do more—reading, shopping, hiking, and even new jobs all become possible. By receiving mentorship from Dassault Systèmes’ Lab teams, .lumen can scale its business, leverage new technologies and network with other players in the engineering space.

With Pop on board, .lumen has become a technological powerhouse, achieving unprecedented growth within Romania’s tech landscape. Some have called Romania the “Silicon Valley of Eastern Europe,” with the country named as one of the top world leaders in certified IT specialists. .lumen has been through many successful investment rounds and received significant commendations, including the coveted “Ethical AI” award from the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge 2021. Pop herself was recognized on Romania’s Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2021.

Pop appreciates the accolades, but she’s not one to rest on her laurels. She lights up when talking about her work – especially when discussing future ambitions.

Jumping into progress

Having been with the company since its genesis, Pop looks forward to the day when .lumen’s glasses are available globally.

“We’re getting closer to that daily,” she said. “We’re doing trials; we’re using these glasses to change lives—I can’t wait for everyone that needs them to have this available.

 “The future is now,” Pop said. “The technology coming out every day is only going to further revolutionize our world. We can’t waste time looking for the next big thing—we must make it.”

Elena Pop isn’t the only one helping reshape the capabilities of robotics. Check out some of the other humans driving progress.

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