USC sophomore reimagines telepresence robots for the visually impaired
Haylee Mota remembers the moment well. She was a curious and inquisitive 7-year-old in awe of the spaceships, rockets and fighter jets at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C., when she made up her mind that one day she would become an engineer.
However, the pathway to making that dream a reality involved a learning curve far beyond academics. The 19-year-old has not been able to see a rocket or a textbook since she was a child. Mota is blind, but she’s never lost sight of that childhood dream – in fact, she’s well on her way to making it a reality.
“I was born with Leber Congenital Amaurosis,” Mota said. “The doctors didn’t notice at first. I was a few months old when my mom noticed that I would go past the TV and not pay any attention to it. She began to question if there was something wrong with my eyes.”
Leber Congenital Amaurosis is a rare genetic eye disorder that causes light-gathering cells in the retina not to function properly. The disorder is also degenerative, causing Mota’s vision loss to become more severe over time. Now she can only see shadows and light perception. While blindness is often presented as a completely incapacitating disability, Mota has not let it slow her down.
“You only live once, so don’t let anything hold you back,” is her motto.