Friday, July 1, 2011

Israeli scientists find way to aid the blind

Today is Friday, time yet again for another posting of Interesting Jewish Stories & Facts. Today we’ll take the road less traveled and focus on some good news out of the Middle East.

For the moment let’s forget about politics and peace talks, religious fanaticism of all stripes and colors, and apocalyptic prophesies. Instead, let’s focus on all the good that spills out of Israel. The Jewish homeland has been producing and exporting amazing stuff for decades that has, literally, made the entire planet safer, healthier, and better equipped to handle the challenges of the future.

Most recently the scientists at Hebrew University in Jerusalem have come up with a high-tech virtual cane that will dramatically change the lives of millions of people around the world who are blind. The cane, a hand-held device that is simple to operate and carry around, helps people who can’t see estimate the distance and height of various obstacles.

Here’s how it works. The virtual cane emits a focused beam at surrounding objects. Once the beam strikes an obstacle – say a wall, another person or closed door – it causes the device to vibrate. The rate of vibration changes depending on the location of the obstacle. With that information, the person holding the device is able to assess the height and distance of various objects, get a good idea of what the surrounding area looks like and safely navigate their way around any obstacles.

Officials with Yissum Research Development Company Ltd., the technology transfer company of Hebrew University and holders of the patent for the virtual cane, think they’ve created a device that is simple to use, small, accurate and affordable. In early tests, the virtual cane has been hugely successful, enabling blind volunteers to easily navigate through complicated mazes. Additional tests are planned before the virtual cane will be placed on the market.

All of this is very good news, yet another scientific advancement developed by scientists in Israel that promises to dramatically improve the lives of millions of people around the world. This “promising invention can endow visually impaired people with the freedom to freely navigate in their surroundings without … bumping into or touching others,” says Yaacov Michlin, Yissum’s CEO. “It has the potential to significantly enhance their quality of life.”

A footnote: Yissum Research Development Company was founded in 1964 to protect and commercialize Hebrew University's intellectual property. Ranked among the top technology transfer companies in the world, Yissum has registered over 7,000 patents covering 2,023 inventions; has licensed out 530 technologies and has spun-off 72 companies. Products that are based on Hebrew University technologies and were commercialized by Yissum now generate over $2 Billion in annual sales.

BRIGHTER TOMORROW: High-tech virtual cane (photo above) will brighten the world for millions living in darkness.

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