Meet Esther, Mobility Challenge Winner | Net Impact

Meet Esther, Mobility Challenge Winner

In the Toyota Mobility Challenge, interdisciplinary groups of students use human-centered design processes and insider knowledge from Toyota’s mobility experts to generate solutions that have the potential to make a real world impact.
In the Toyota Mobility Challenge, interdisciplinary groups of students use human-centered design processes and insider knowledge from Toyota’s mobility experts to generate solutions that have the potential to make a real world impact.

Last year, Net Impact and the Toyota Mobility Foundation launched the Next Generation Mobility Challenge for students to generate solutions to some of the leading issues in transportation and mobility. The winning concept was a proposed app called StreetSmart that would work in conjunction with Toyota’s Project BLAID, providing real-time audio alerts on street conditions for people who are visually impaired. The students who proposed the solution spent their summer working with Toyota Mobility Foundation to build out research on their idea. Now that the summer has come to a close, we’ve spotlighted this summer’s interns. 


Gahyun (Esther) Kim


Industrial Design, Rhode Island School of Design

If you were speaking with a student who is going to participate in the Challenge, what advice would you give them?

Go with an open mind! Think in positive terms and have fun!

What do you think is the most critical issue facing the world of mobility and transportation?

As creative makers, we should be constantly asking, "How can we help everyone provide safe and confident mobility and transportation?" I think this goes for everything else, really, but there is a lack of consideration for inclusive design. Something as simple as adding in some kind of sound when the car is moving, or thinking about whether your navigation app is accessible to someone with visual impairment can go a long way. Ask questions like, "Is your building wheelchair accessible?" or "Can a person with visual impairment use your device?" along the process. 

What is something you learned from your internship experience that you weren’t expecting?

This is was my first on-site internship, so I came in with an open mind. But one significant lesson I've learned throughout this internship is figuring out how to overcome the situations when aspects of your project do not work out. The unique part of this internship was that because I got the internship through a design competition, my partner, John, and I were leading our own project integrated to Toyota's product as opposed to being assigned to certain tasks. When you constantly meet obstacles throughout your project development, it's so easy to let it go (cliché, I know). But finding even the smallest possibilities with available resources and applying that in our process was a tough but a vital experience to gain! And part of being able to do that was by being honest not only to ourselves but to our office executives so we can figure out a viable solution together. 

How has interning at Toyota Partner Robotics shaped or changed your future plans?

The internship at Toyota Partner Robotics encouraged me to really think about the vast possibilities to help others through design. I want to create things that have the purpose to help others, and make the world a better place. I think my internship with Toyota Partner Robotics also widened my perspectives on what I want to do in my career. I have been very interested in the field of User Experience (UX) Design, and have been hoping to pursue it after graduating school. But prior to the  internship, I don't think I fully understood the vast possibilities of what UX Design could do. I always – and almost only – associated UX Design with screen interface design, but I quickly saw that it was more about human-centered design, or how your design can actually satisfy the user's needs and communicate through each pain point, rather than simply create sleek designs. 

What is your biggest takeaway from the experience?

Overall, I enjoyed meeting a variety of members of the visually impaired community as part of my user research study. I was so encouraged to meet so many people with visual impairment who are breaking the negative stereotypes pointed towards disabilities and pursuing their careers and education. It was also super inspiring to see what others are doing with the concept of inclusive design and why they are doing what they do. I visited Lighthouse, which is a center for the blind and the visually impaired in San Francisco, and I was amazed to hear that the architect of the center building is fully blind, and that he is actually my alumnus!

If you could have dinner with any three people (living or dead), who would they be and why?

Three is such a small number! First I would invite Sergey Brin because he is one of the founders of Google, who also happens to be an immigrant who grew up in Maryland--like me! I’d love to ask him about how he started Google in his dorm room to living the American Dream. Then I would invite Sugata Mitra, because he is the creator of SOLE, or Self-Organized Learning Environment. My personal passion is to provide better access to education for all students around the world, and I was genuinely inspired by Sugata's TED talk, "The Child-driven Education." Finally, I would invite Salvador Dali, because he is my all-time favorite artist.