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Creative Israeli Solutions For Visual Disabilities

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Friday, September 16th, 2016

Inventions using sound and touch soon to be commercialized from Israeli professor’s lab will give unprecedented abilities to people with visual limitations.

As reported in Israel 21C:

In Professor Amir Amedi’s world-renowned Lab for Brain and Multisensory Research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, people with vision impairment can “see” their environment with the aid of sensory substitution devices (SSDs) that provide visual information from sound and touch.

Now, two of the lab’s groundbreaking inventions are being readied for the mass market in Brainnovations, Israel Brain Technologies’ four-month accelerator program.

EyeCane, a flashlight-like orientation device, emits infrared rays to translate distance into auditory and tactile cues enabling the user to sense objects within an adjustable range of up to five meters. After brief training, EyeCane users can estimate distances, avoid obstacles and successfully navigate in simple environments.

EyeMusic is an app and mini camera system that conveys colors, shapes and location of objects by converting images into “soundscapes” for the brain to interpret visually. Blind individuals can be trained to recognize the letters of the alphabet, “see” pictures of animals, and even find an object or person in a complex visual landscape. A version of the app is available free on the Apple App Store and Google Play.

Commercializing and eventually combining EyeCane and EyeMusic could give unprecedented self-navigation capabilities to blind people, says Daphna Rosenbaum, CEO of RenewSenses, a pre-startup based on Amedi’s research in the medical neurobiology department of the university’s Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada.

“What we offer is independence in understanding and interpreting one’s surroundings using the natural brain processing of interpreting the landscape and objects,” says Rosenbaum. “No machine is as sophisticated as the brain and our solution is based on its elasticity and sensory substitution abilities.”

Amedi received a European Research Council grant to develop the SSDs, whose patents are owned by Yissum, the technology transfer arm of the Hebrew University. Yissum has spun out 110 companies including superstars such as Mobileye, BriefCam, OrCam and Betalin Therapeutics.

With the encouragement of Yissum, RenewSenses entered Brainnovations in May to build a business model and get the products to people who are waiting for them, Rosenbaum says. The initial version of EyeCane could be available within three or four months of raising production funds.

Rosenbaum says that EyeCane and EyeMusic are based on different scientific insights than are potentially similar technologies under development elsewhere. Using infrared rather than ultrasonic rays gives EyeCane has superior accuracy, and it is expected to be more affordable than competitive devices. EyeMusic is the only system of its kind that can effectively convey color and brightness information.

For the 357 000 Australians estimated by Vision Australia to suffer from severe vision impairment, EyeCane and EyeMusic provide modern solutions that can offer significant improvements to their lifestyle.