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Photo by: REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach
*Smartphone app and camera help blind to maneuver*
By JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH
05/17/2014
The new technology is based on a motion-sensing Kinect camera, a smartphone app and earphones.
 
Electrical engineering students at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have developed an application that guides the blind – based on a motion-sensing Kinect camera, a smartphone app and earphones.

The students’ idea was based on images of the surroundings from the camera, which was originally designed to enable users to control and interact with their console/ computer without the need for a game controller, through a natural user interface using gestures and spoken commands. The application makes it possible to receive warnings about obstructions using a sound indicator.

“I thought of the idea while driving,” said engineering student Tzahi Shimkin. “A blind person who stood on the corner had difficulty at the crossing. I thought that if I could explain to him using technological means what there was around him, I could make it easier for him and give him a sense of security. From this was born a product that integrates a field-of-depth camera with a cellular application,” said Shimkin.

He brought in fellow Technion students Gal Dellal and Danny Zilber to work on the project.

“The technological advantage of the Kinect camera is that it gives good depth images and that it’s inexpensive and relatively easy to use. This field is developing all the time, and the cameras are becoming smaller and cheaper.

Our project integrates the images you get from the camera and the smartphone application to help the visually disabled.”

The camera, which is worn on the belt, photographs the user’s surroundings, and the user is informed about things that get in his way. The system learns certain objects such as keys or bags in advance so users can find them. If there is a barrier, the system alerts the user to halt and go around it. Shimkin explained that the system has not yet been tested on a blind person, only on blindfolded team members, on whom he said it “works well.”

The students have contacted the Association for the Blind in Haifa to enlist members to test it out so they can make necessary improvements.

There are 150 million blind and vision-disabled people in the world, and the number of technological solutions is very limited.

“The best means for guiding the blind today are the stick and the [seeing-eye] dog. Our product is not yet perfect, but we will continue to develop it in the future,” said Shimkin.

Kobi Kochi, who is head of the lab for control, robotics and calculated learning in the electrical engineering faculty, supervised the project. “It received a mark of 100, said Kochi, “and it will be submitted to a competition of the faculty’s best projects.”

JCI ACCREDITATION FOR TZRIFIN HOSPITAL

Assaf Harofeh Medical Center in Tzrifin has been recognized for safety and the high quality of its medicine and medical research by the JCI (Joint Commission International) accreditation organization. Representatives of the organization visited the hospital in February to examine its work practices and medical care to determine whether they met international standards. Its accreditation means the Tzrifin hospital is now one of a relatively small number of medical centers around the globe to meet the highest standards, said hospital director-general Dr.

Benny Davidson. Over half-a-dozen other Israeli medical centers have previously received accreditation from JCI, and the process will soon be completed at an equal number of other local hospitals.

ANTIDEPRESSANTS & BREASTFEEDING CAN MIX

Australian researchers have found that women on antidepressant medication are more successful at breastfeeding their babies if they keep taking the medication, compared with women who quit antidepressants because of concerns about their babies’ health. University of Adelaide researchers presented their findings at a recent perinatal conference in Perth.

Using data from the Danish National Birth Cohort, they studied the outcomes of 368 women who were on antidepressants prior to becoming pregnant.

“We found that two-thirds of the women stopped taking their antidepressant medication either after becoming pregnant or during breastfeeding,” said Dr. Luke Grzeskowiak. A third continued to take the pills throughout their pregnancy and while breastfeeding – and these women were much more successful at maintaining breastfeeding up to and beyond the recommended six months.

“In contrast, those women who had stopped taking antidepressants were also more likely to stop breastfeeding within the recommended six months,” said Grzeskowiak.

The researchers agreed that the health benefits of continued breastfeeding greatly outweigh any perceived risk to the baby from antidepressant medication.

“This is a really important message because we know that breastfeeding has immense benefits for the child and the mum herself, including a degree of protection against post-natal depression,” Grzeskowiak concluded. “The amount of antidepressant medication that finds its way into a mother’s breast milk is very low. On the balance, we believe that continuing to take antidepressant medication and maintaining regular breastfeeding will be the best outcome for both the baby and the mother.”

Many women struggle with decisions about what to do with medications both during pregnancy and lactation.

“If they’re taking antidepressants,” said Grzeskowiak, “they should be supported and encouraged by family members, friends and healthcare professionals to continue with their medication, knowing that good breastfeeding outcomes are all-important for them and their child.”
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