The blind and visually impaired could be able to toss away their white canes or
at least “see” better with them, thanks to a “virtual cane” developed by Hebrew
University of Jerusalem researchers and patented by Yissum, the university’s
research and development company.
The device was unveiled at a HU press
conference at the Jerusalem International Convention Center on Tuesday, just
before the Israeli Presidential Conference opened there.
Dr. Amir Amedi
of HU’s Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada and of the Edmond and Lily
Safra Center for Brain Sciences and colleagues unveiled the inexpensive device,
which emits a focused beam at objects around the user and transmits the visual
information to to him via a gentle vibration similar to the quivering of a
The technology transfer company in Jerusalem is now looking
for strategic partners for further development.
Amedi estimated that the
lightweight device, which reporters quickly learned to use to get through a dark
maze blindfolded, would eventually cost about $100.
The highly intuitive
electronic device, the size of a cellphone, incorporates several sensors that
estimate the distance between the user and the object it is pointed at. This
enables 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 easy to carry and accurate and can function for up to 12 hours
Amedi said the blind user functions like a dolphin or
bat, with sonar-type signals reacting to surroundings.
Unlike a white
stick that can give the blind input from only a meter away, the device can
function at a much shorter distance and up to some 10 meters in all directions.
The young researcher said the device can also distinguish between smiling and
sad faces and can be used for research on how the brain flexibly changes upon
receiving input and on brain reorganization in the blind.
There is a
potential market of some 200 million visually impaired people around the world;
40 million of them are legally blind; all of them have difficulties in
orientation and navigation, even with an ordinary stick. One of the main
challenges facing blind people is the ability to assess the height of various
obstacles as well as to identify far away objects in their surroundings. So far,
until the journalists tried it, about a dozen people successfully navigated the
maze, and after a very short practice period managed to completely avoid walls
and obstacles without bumping their heads.
Yissum CEO Yaacov Michlin said
that the 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.”
HU, for the second year a partner of Beit
Hanassi in organizing the Israeli Presidential Conference, filled a hall near
the entrance with displays and demonstrations of developments of its
researchers. Carmi Gillon, the university’s vice president for external
relations, said that 40 percent of all academic research in the country is done
at HU; Yissum has made the university the 15th in the world in
Dr. Yonatan Elkind of HU’s Smith Institute for Plant Sciences
and Genetics in Agriculture, presented bell peppers suited to growing in the
Arava in all seasons. The sweet pepper market has ballooned in Europe, with 60%
of all agricultural land in the Arava devoted to the vegetable and yields very
The team are developing green peppers that remain green for a long
time instead of turning red, and others that have special tastes and colors –
even a brown one whose taste reminds people of chocolate. Others will have more
vitamins and minerals than the conventional strains.
doctoral student Oron Gar, who works with Prof. Dani Zamir, presented export
roses that have restored a lovely scent instead of the scentless blossoms now
This was achieved from breeding that will also add new
colors and forms of roses.