Blind ambition: AT&T helps make the near-impossible, possible

Sarah Huether November 06, 2018


The 2.5-mile wide Bosporus Strait in Turkey forms part of the continental divide between Asia and Europe and is one of the busiest maritime waterways in the world.

Definition of blind ambition: The act of blocking out everything else around oneself in order to achieve what seems impossible.
Embodiment: Ahmet Ustunel

A Turkish-native with a life-long connection to water, Ahmet had a dream to be the first blind man to cross the Bosporus Strait, a body of water connecting Asia and Europe, solo by kayak. He had received the 2017 Holman Prize, entitled "Blind Ambition," to fund his dream, but he needed connected technology to help guide him on the nearly 2.5-mile journey.

"If you can help, why wouldn't you?" This was the first thought Marty Stone, a volunteer with the AT&T employee resource group HACEMOS, had when Ahmet approached him last year. Having volunteered with HACEMOS for more than 6 years, Marty had experience creating solutions for adaptive sports, including Mr. Beep, a connected technology tailored for rowers that uses a series of audio buzzers that fit on the rower's shoulder and beep to notify them to paddle left, right or straight.

Ahmet learned of Marty's work in the local news and knew he was the man for the job. Chris Penrose, president of Internet of Things Solutions, heard of Marty's involvement and knew the Foundry was the place to make it happen.

James Yu, a principal product engineer at the AT&T Foundry in Houston worked with Marty on developing the navigational code to guide Ahmet. They evolved the Mr. Beep technology Marty created and added voice capabilities. The system uses a small keyboard with braille stickers which helped Ahmet start the system navigation, obtain information on heading and speed, and save trip data.

And to keep Ahmet's friends and family informed of his progress, the Foundry also built a cloud-based navigational dashboard utilizing our DataFlow IoT platform to chart Ahmet's journey in near-real time.

With these 2 at the helm, dozens of volunteers and employees from the Foundries and the HACEMOS ERG volunteered to help in various ways, from solution design, build, test and technology refinement, all the way to being on hand and on site the day of the event to help out.

"This was just the start."

"This has been right up there with graduating college and getting married," said Marty of the experience. But Ahmet's and Marty's time together isn't over.

Ahmet's current plans are to paddle solo from the south of Turkey to the north of Cyprus – about 60 miles – in 2019.

"I'll keep working with Marty," Ahmet said. "We just had a lessons-learned talk and he'll keep improving the device for this project and for other blind people. It'll be a good open source device."

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