Foundation to develop visual assist system for people with vision disabilities

Americas, August 22 2013

OLD SAYBROOK, CONNECTICUT: The Therapeutic Research Foundation (TRF), a CT non-profit biotechnology corporation dedicated to charitable purposes, announced today it will collaborate with the National Science Foundation-sponsored Quality of Life Technology Center (QoLT) at Carnegie Mellon University and The University of Pittsburgh to establish a comprehensive visual assist system for people who are blind and low vision.

Current technology for people who are blind is still clumsy and archaic in comparison to the rapidly changing smart phone, iPad and laptop computer. In contrast, the TRF has a key innovation involving a high-tech informatics system for navigation, which will offer dramatic improvements by leveraging the QoLT Center’s expertise in computer vision, perception and awareness, personal mobility and human system interaction.

The TRF proprietary project creates a system for enhancing the ability of low-vision and people who are blind to navigate and interact with their surroundings by constructing a virtual 3-D environment for an Immersive Navigational Informatics System. The system builds and communicates a description of the virtual environment for users and allows for further electronic interactions to occur via voice/speech-recognition software. Alerting mechanisms (e.g., audio and/or sensory feedback components) will also integrate with the system to establish a comprehensive visual solution.

TRF is currently raising additional monies to finalize the research, development and validation of these projects, and then provide educational training for new users. Interested parties can contribute directly to these projects by making a donation on the TRF website.

“The successful availability of this promising innovation can potentially decrease the annual health expenditures of people with vision disabilities which are currently estimated at $7,000 more per year than the non-blind, while increasing potential for employment,” said Dr.’s David Shearer, M.D. (CEO) and Richard Lutes, M.D. (CMO) of the TRF. Prof. Emeritus Stanley Katz from Quinnipiac University (TRF Board of Directors) described this innovation as the “first real step towards facilitating spatial awareness for people with vision disabilities.”

“The QoLT Center shares TRF’s commitment to enhancing the current market of available assistive devices by applying emerging technologies directly to user needs,” said Jim Osborn, Executive Director of the QoLT Center. “The application of computer vision, specifically to aid individuals with vision disabilities, shows tremendous potential to reveal new insights on the design of any symbiotic system that mediates between a human user and an engineered system.”

The Quality of Life Technology Center has completed prior work in intelligent systems to aid people who are blind and low vision. Earlier research and development (R&D) works include: Smart Wayfaring Signs, a sensor networked solution for connecting walking canes to directional signage inside buildings to better convey navigation information; Computer Vision for Assistive Navigation – a set of algorithms that allow artificial vision devices to perceive detailed scene information; development of a Retinal Prosthesis for restoring functional vision to people who are blind and low vision; and, – in collaboration with Wicab, Inc. – enhancement of the BrainPort, a wearable camera and sensory substitution system that converts recorded views into electrical signals that a user feels on the tongue and interprets as seen images.

Education and awareness will be pivotal to the successful implementation of these new assistive technologies for people who are blind and low vision. A portion of funds raised by the TRF will be dedicated to implementing user training, education and awareness programs. A related and key initiative is to apply these tools and other technology enhanced devices to increase the earning potential of people who are blind and low vision. Given the size of this population, this is a tremendously underutilized resource, that with greater earning opportunities, will not only increase their quality of life but the lives of others in their communities.

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