Talking gloves, tactile windows: new tech helps the disabled

Hadeel Ayoub slips a black glove onto her hand before beginning the swish of sign language that is meaningless to the untrained observer. Then she pushes a button on her wrist, and a small speaker relays the message drawn in the air: "Let's Dance!"

"My dream is to give a voice to those who can't speak," says the 36-year-old inventor who is developing her BrightSign glove while working toward a Ph.D. in assistive technology at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Improvements in artificial intelligence, combined with the decreasing cost of hardware, are making it possible for inventors to develop new products without the need for the deep pockets of governments or corporations. With the help of 3D printers and the increased processing power of home computers, they are creating devices designed for people with motor, vision, hearing and cognitive impairments.

Microsoft and Google are trying to spur work in this area, offering a total of $45 million in grants to developers of assistive technologies. Microsoft says it hopes to identify promising projects that can eventually be incorporated into widely available services.

"We're certainly seeing an explosion of new technology that is looking to support people with disabilities," said Zvika Krieger, head of technology policy and partnerships at the World Economic Forum. "There are a lot of innovators out there ... who are looking to move beyond maybe a dating app or a social networking app and are looking to do something that really helps the disadvantaged."

While Ayoub hopes her efforts pay off financially, she says she is driven by a desire to create a world where disabilities become meaningless. She is trying to raise 1 million pounds to bring BrightSign to the market, estimating her gloves will cost "a few hundred dollars" each, compared with $2,000 or more for existing technology.

"My dream for BrightSign is to be the extension of the senses for the people ... who want to voice their feelings and opinions without having to always look for someone to help them out — to give them the independence that they need and control over their own communication," she said.

The need for such products is only going to increase as the world's population ages, increasing the number of people with physical, cognitive, vision and hearing problems, according to a WHO report published this year. The challenge is to develop new technologies while also increasing the availability of simple devices like spectacles and wheelchairs that many people can't afford.

Companies are starting to recognize the financial potential of the market, as these innovations can improve products sold more widely, said Hector Minto, who has the unusual title of "accessibility evangelist" at Microsoft.

For example, Microsoft last year launched its free Seeing AI app, which turns a smart phone into a "talking camera" that helps visually impaired people do things like scan and read aloud text, recognize faces and identify products bar codes. Similar technology goes into the company's text Translator service, which costs businesses $10 to $45,000 a month, depending on the number of transactions.

"Absolutely I think there's a unique business case on its own, but definitely there's a much larger business case for Microsoft in that the tools of the future quite often will come through a disability lens," he said.

It's important to remember that all of us have impairments at times, says Robin Christopherson, head of digital inclusion at the British charity AbilityNet, which helps older people and the disabled use computers.

He explains it like this: a person with perfect sight might have a visual impairment when trying to read a smart phone in bright sunlight, or a person with perfect hearing can struggle to understand a phone call when on the street outside. As a result, technology that helps people with permanent vision or hearing problems also makes products better for everyone. In the past five years, AbilityNet's team of experts who test products to ensure they work well for the disabled has grown from six people to 22.

Innovation has not yet produced products good enough to offer complete freedom for the impaired, said Tom Kamber, executive director of Brooklyn-based Older Adults Technology Services, a non-profit that helps the elderly use technology. But there is reason for optimism because investors are actively looking for the next big thing in technology, he said.

"There's no shortage of people in Silicon Valley that will take your call," Kamber said. "The sector has advanced to the point that a lot of money is going to be made."

The Holy Grail is for such technology to be integrated into off-the-shelf products, so people with disabilities can get the help they need without extra cost, said Christopherson of AbilityNet. Christopherson, who is blind, cited the iPhone, which allowed him to swap a backpack full of equipment and cables for one device.

And then there's the opportunity for technology to help people with impairments experience the world in completely different ways.

Ford Motor Co. worked with the Aedo Project, an Italian startup, to create a device that helps blind people "feel the view" outside a car window by turning light into vibrations that, when combined with audio description, convey a sense of the scenery passing by.

While the technology is only in the prototype stage, one blind man who worked on the project described his amazement when he tried out the device for the first time.

"My first sensation when my finger went from the mountain to the sky felt like I had ended up in cream, something milky, something soft," Antonio Bruni said. "They told me: These were clouds."

 

September 13, 2018

Sources: ABC News

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    thridge quake, but a study issued the following year put the death toll at 72, including heart attacks.</p><p> About 9,000 people were injured, and the damage costs were estimated at $25 billion.</p><p> On this anniversary, The Associated Press is making available this story from Jan. 17, 1994, the day of the earthquake. The toll of dead and injured was not fully known when it first appeared.</p><p> Severe quake hits Southern California; at least 24 dead</p><p> LOS ANGELES — A violent earthquake struck Southern California before dawn today, turning freeways into rubble, collapsing buildings with a savage power and igniting fires that sent swirls of smoke across the hazy, battered city. At least 24 people died.</p><p> The quake, centered in the San Fernando Valley, buckled overpasses on three freeways, trapping motorists in tons of concrete rubble. It severed Interstate 5, California's main north-south highway, and Interstate 10, the nation's busiest freeway.</p><p> "This place was moving like a jackhammer was going at it," said Richard Goodis of Sherman Oaks, an affluent San Fernando Valley suburb. "Our bedroom wall tore away. I was looking at the ceiling one moment, then I was looking at the sky. I thought we were dead."</p><p> The quake derailed a freight train carrying hazardous material and briefly closed several airports, including Los Angeles International. Power and telephone service were lost throughout Southern California.</p><p> Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and California Gov. Pete Wilson declared states of emergency, and President Clinton said he expected to issue a federal disaster declaration later in the day.</p><p> Wilson called out the National Guard. In addition, fire rescue teams responded from as far away as San Francisco.</p><p> The quake struck at 4:31 a.m., and measured a preliminary 6.6 on the Richter scale, said Kate Hutton, a seismologist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Although not as strong as some quakes in recent years, it was unusually destructive because of its location in a populous area.</p><p> A swarm of aftershocks, some as strong as 5 on the Richter scale, jostled the region throughout the morning, and seismologists said they could continue for several days.</p><p> The dead, according to hospital and police reports, were:</p><p> — Fourteen people crushed to death in an apartment building in Northridge.</p><p> — Five people who died of quake-related heart attacks, three at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and two at Holy Cross Medical Center in Sylmar.</p><p> — Two people who died when a hillside home collapsed in Sherman Oaks.</p><p> — One woman who broke her neck when she slipped and struck a crib at her home in Rancho Cucamonga in San Bernardino County.</p><p> — A Los Angeles police officer whose motorcycle sailed off a severed freeway overpass, falling nearly 25 feet to the road below.</p><p> — A person who fell from a sixth-floor window at a downtown hotel.</p><p> Referring to the ruins of the Northridge apartment building, fire Capt. Steve Bascom said: "We've got a three-story apartment that's now a two-story. ... We've got people we're pulling out all the time."</p><p> The building, half a block from California State University, Northridge, housed mostly college students. An identical building next to it buckled, but didn't collapse. Hundreds of people watched firefighters search the rubble.</p><p> The entire building "shifted north about six feet," said fire Battalion Chief Bob De Feo. A third-floor resident, Eric Pearson, told Cable News Network that he felt a huge jolt that lifted the building off its foundation, moved it over and slammed it down.</p><p> In a dramatic and dangerous rescue nearby, searchers spent hours digging through the wreckage of a parking garage at the Northridge Fashion Center before pulling out a 35-year-old street sweeper alive. 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Some physical storefronts will survive, but they’ll have to offer at least one of two things: entertainment value or immediate convenience.</p><p>MacKenzie Bezos, who first lived with her husband in a rented home in an East Seattle suburb, was heavily involved in the business at the start: In addition to working as an accountant, she helped brainstorm names for the company and even shipped early orders through UPS, according to “The Everything Store.”</p><p>In 1999, they moved into a $10 million mansion in Medina, Wash., and Ms. Bezos became pregnant with their first child. As they rapidly accumulated wealth, the Bezos family took pains to preserve the trappings of normalcy. </p><p>Ms. Bezos often drove the four children to school in a Honda, and would then drop Mr. Bezos at the office, Mr. Stone wrote.</p><p>As the company flourished, Ms. Bezos stepped back and focused on her family and her literary ambitions.</p><p>“Business wasn’t her passion, and when Amazon took off she wasn’t as involved in the day-to-day business,” Mr. Stone said.</p><p>She spent a decade on her first novel, often getting up early to write, and signed with her mentor’s literary agent, Ms. Urban at ICM Partners, who also represents Cormac McCarthy, Haruki Murakami and Kazuo Ishiguro. </p><p>“The Testing of Luther Albright,” which was published by Harper in 2005 and was widely embraced by critics, tells the story of an engineer whose professional and home lives begin to unravel in the 1980s. </p><p>In 2013, Ms. Bezos published her second novel, “Traps,” which follows the journey of woman named Jessica Lessing, a reclusive film star, as she emerges from hiding to confront her father, a con man who has been selling her out to the paparazzi for years. Jessica drives to Las Vegas to meet him, and encounters three other women: a teen mother, a dog-shelter owner and a former military bodyguard, who become her allies.</p><p>“I would say the biggest theme in the book is the idea that the things that we worry over the most in life, the things that we feel trapped by, the mistakes we’ve made, the bad luck that we come across, the accidents that happen to us, the paradoxes — in the end, oftentimes those things are the things that we’ll look back and be the most grateful for,” Ms. Bezos said of the novel during an interview with Charlie Rose. “They take us where we need to go.”</p><p>Throughout their marriage, Mr. Bezos was an enthusiastic supporter of Ms. Bezos’s fiction, and would clear his schedule to read drafts of her novels, Ms. Bezos told Vogue. In the acknowledgments of “Traps,” she called him “my most devoted reader.”</p><p>Sales of her books have been modest: The novels have sold a few thousand print copies, according to NPD BookScan, which tracks some 85 percent of print sales. Some independent booksellers refused to stock Ms. Bezos’s novels, according to a publishing executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Ms. Urban, Ms. Bezos’s literary agent, declined to comment for this article.</p><p>The Bezoses were the richest couple in the world; their divorce exists at a level of wealth that is virtually unprecedented. There have been billion-dollar divorces, like that of Steve and Elaine Wynn who owned casinos together, and certainly, technology entrepreneurs have been in and out of divorce court — most notably Larry Ellison, a co-founder of Oracle who has been wed and unwed four times.</p><p>But there has never been a divorce with a couple worth an estimated $137 billion, as Mr. and Ms. Bezos are.</p><p>Little is known about the couple’s financial arrangements. Divorces are governed by state law, and the Bezoses’ primary residence and business are in Washington state, a community property state where any income earned or wealth created during the marriage is to be divided equitably between spouses.</p><p>But some lawyers think it is unlikely that Mr. and Mrs. Bezos will adhere to that guideline in a predictable manner. If they were to split assets equally, Mr. Bezos could find the 16.1 percent of Amazon stock he owns halved.</p><p>“I’d imagine they didn’t fight at all over how much wealth each other gets,” said William Zabel, a founding partner of the law firm Schulte Roth and Zabel, who has handled many high-profile divorce cases but not worked with the Bezoses. Probably, he said, “they fought about control.”</p><p>Mr. Zabel represented Wendi Murdoch and Jane Welch in their separations, and said he thought the Bezoses would almost certainly negotiate a way to split the value of the Amazon shares while allowing Mr. Bezos the leverage he might need. The length of time such an agreement remains in place would be part of the negotiations.</p><p>Ms. Bezos has kept a low profile in recent weeks, and has not been photographed since the divorce was announced. (Mr. Bezos, by contrast, has continued to appear publicly and was pictured this month at a Golden Globes after-party with Lauren Sanchez, a former television anchor he is reportedly seeing.)</p><p>It is unknown what Ms. Bezos will do next, and how the divorce will play out.</p><p>There will be inevitable questions, for instance, about her plans regarding philanthropy. The Bezoses’ charitable contributions have been modest in the past. In 2011, they donated $15 million to their alma mater to create a center to study the brain. The following year, they gave $2.5 million to support a same-sex marriage referendum in Washington. </p><p>And if Ms. Bezos continues to write and publish, perhaps she could find a more receptive audience among independent booksellers. Some publishing executives, who declined to be quoted on the record, spoke gleefully, at least, of the blockbuster potential if Ms. Bezos decides to write a memoir.</p><p>Vanessa Friedman and Paul Sullivan contributed reporting. </p>

    1 January 15, 2019
  •  Huawei founder says company would not share user secrets

    Huawei founder says company would not share user secrets

    wei Technologies says the tech giant would reject requests from the Chinese government to disclose confidential information about its customers.</p><p> Meeting with foreign reporters at Huawei's headquarters, Ren Zhengfei sought Tuesday to allay Western concerns the company is a security risk. Those fears have hampered Huawei's access to global markets for next-generation telecom technology.</p><p> Asked how Huawei would respond if Chinese authorities ask for confidential information about foreign customers or their networks, Ren said, "we would definitely say no to such a request."</p>

    1 January 15, 2019

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