Virtual Cane for the Visually Impaired Presented at International Presidential Conference

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IMRIC and You
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Sidney Slivko

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I am a writer and teacher who has always had an interest in science. Well, science fiction, at any rate. Not the bug-eyed monster type, but the kind of sci-fi that speculated on what the world would look like 10, 20 or 100 years from now. Innovation and new ideas excite me, as do the changes they  bring to our lives, whether it's a new toy I've got to get, a new application I want to add to my laptop, a new puzzle to solve or a new food I haven't tasted yet.

IMRIC Researcher Dr. Amir Amedi
The device, developed by IMRIC researcher Dr. Amir Amedi and his team was presented for the first time at the Israeli Presidential Conference, which is held in collaboration with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. 
 
Jerusalem, Israel, June 21, 2011 – Yissum Research Development Company Ltd., the technology transfer company of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, presented today at the Israeli Presidential Conference, a virtual cane that will significantly improve the orientation and mobility of sight-impaired people. This new device can assist blind people in estimating the distance and height of various obstacles. The invention was registered as a patent by Yissum, which is now seeking strategic partners for further development. 
 
Dr. Amir Amedi from the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada (IMRIC) and at Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences (ELSC) at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and his team recently developed a device to help in spatial navigation for the blind. The invention, which functions as a virtual flashlight, can replace or augment the classic white cane. The virtual cane emits a focused beam towards surrounding objects, and transmits the information to the user via a gentle vibration, similar to a cell phone vibration. The cane incorporates several sensors that estimate the distance between the user and the object it is pointed at. This allows the blind person to assess the height and distance of various objects, reconstruct an accurate image of the surroundings and navigate safely. The virtual cane is extremely small, easy to carry, accurate, can function for up to 12 hours and is easy to charge. Using the device is highly intuitive and can be learnt within a few minutes.
 
Researchers in Dr. Amedi's lab employ the virtual cane in various environments in order to study the brain, its flexibility and reorganization in blind people. For example, the researchers constructed a real maze that enables subjects to practice walking in changing environments and paths. To date, more than 10 subjects have already successfully navigated the maze, and after a very short practice period managed to completely avoid walls and obstacles.
 
Yaacov Michlin, CEO of Yissum said, "Dr. Amedi's promising invention can endow visually impaired people with the freedom to freely navigate in their surroundings without unintentionally bumping into or touching other people and thus has the potential to significantly enhance their quality of life."