Friday, March 27, 2015

This smartwatch app tracks epileptic seizures and alerts someone in an emergency

March 27, 2015
Eric Dolan’s family knows illness, and it knows helplessness. Like many families with several members affected by chronic disease, symptoms and surgeries compounded at the same, exposing many of the vulnerabilities in the health care system. Long before the mobile revolution, Dolan noted that his family lacked the necessary tools to properly track symptoms and the qualities that exacerbate them.
Thirteen years later, Dolan and his brother Alex have cofounded a company, Neutun (pronounced ‘Newton’) to improve the quality of life for epilepsy sufferers. Conceived at Hack The North last fall, the idea was to use the accelerometer in the inexpensive smartwatch to accurately track seizures.
“The last couple of years, we’e been trying to put together different solutions [for tracking], but we always felt it wasn’t there. With a lot of other healthcare stuff, there were always forms, and everything was self-inputted,” Dolan tells me from his office at the Ryerson DMZ in Toronto.
Dolan says that the opportunity to read the data from a smartwatch accelerometer, which due to its placement on the wrist tracks human movement far more accurately than the smartphone in one’s pocket, was a perfect opportunity to track diseases like epilepsy that involve involuntary movement like seizures. “The accelerometer makes day-to-day tracking easy,” he says, and much cheaper.

At Hack The North, which takes place every September in Waterloo, Dolan conceived of using Pebble’s open API to stream accelerometer info in real-time to a database. After pitching the idea, at the time called ‘Pebblepsy’, to YCombinator and Pebble, Dolan caught the attention of Eric Migicovsky, Pebble’s founder and CEO, who recognized in the project the potential to change peoples’ lives.
Eventually, Dolan quit his startup job and founded Neutun, launching earlier this year.
“People with diseases like this get put in a box of sorts,” making it difficult to shake the stigma of being damaged or incomplete. Neutun’s goal is to empower epileptics by combining a web-based front-end for tracking daily symptoms and goals with real-time data from a smartwatch that, over time, can offer insights about the disease.
Like step counting or fitness tracking, the data is only as good as the tools that synthesize it. Neutun uses the notion of a false-positive to generate an alert when a Pebble wearer begins convulsing. The wearer has 15-seconds to dismiss the notification before a text message or email is automatically sent to predetermined emergency contacts. The message contains a GPS location and information about the person.
Because Dolan was already using Pebble’s back-end tools, he felt adding the smartwatch app through Pebble’s iOS or Android app was enough — a standalone smartphone solution wasn’t necessary.
Tools like Neutun are timely. With Apple’s recent ResearchKit announcement, the ability to perform clinical trials is being decentralized and expanded. “There’s such a lack of data out there, and the more there is the better we can adjust each person’s threshold to their personal levels.”
“People take their health very seriously,” says Dolan, and tools like Neutun, and those being proffered by ResearchKit are just the beginning of a trend towards improving health with smartphones and wearables like Pebble.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Cyberlegs project wants to equip amputees with robotic limbs

You'll see a lot more instances of robotic arms in the news, but it doesn't mean high-tech prostheses for the lower limbs don't exist. The Cyberlegs project, for instance, is developing robotic legs that can help amputees move and walk more naturally. Each system is comprised of smart shoes equipped with pressure sensors and inertial measurement units, the limb itself, as well as a component and algorithm that can decode how the user intends to move. It can, for instance, tell if the user wants to start walking, to get up or to sit down -- based on the amputee's habits -- providing the proper support for each action. Users that need even more help can also be fitted with an accompanying pelvic brace that can assist them in moving their hips.
Cyberlegs is a joint project by a number of European institutions: the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia, Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna di Pisa, Fondazione Don Carlo Gnocchi Onlus in Florence, as well the Catholic University of Louvain and the Free University of Brussels in Belgium. Researchers from these schools have been working on the project since 2012 using $2.7 million in funds from the European Commission, but the Italian scientists have only just presented their work to the public this Monday.
Thus far, the system has already been tested by 11 people. But when the team got together recently to assess their work, they've determined that they still need to reduce the prosthetic's weight and size for comfort. The team is hoping to get additional funds from industrial partners to make that happen and to bring Cyberlegs to market in two to three years' time.

High-tech glove could help the deaf-blind send text messages

In German-speaking countries, deaf-blind people use a "tactile alphabet" called Lorm to communicate with one another, which involves a series of motions on the hand.
The problem with Lorm, though, is that few people understand it. This means that people who are both deaf and blind are often limited to communicating with others who understand Lorm.
But a new technology aims to help them communicate more easily with people who don't understand Lorm. Researchers in Berlin are developing the Mobile Lorm Glove, with which deaf-blind people can transmit Lorm to text on a computer or mobile device.
A deaf-blind person can run her fingers across sensors on the glove's palm, just as she would on a normal hand. The sensors pick up on the Lorm and then translate those tactile motions into text. The communication is then sent as a text message to the receiver's smartphone, for example. The transmission occurs via Bluetooth. 
Conversely, the receiver can then send a message back to the glove. 
It w
It works just like a normal text message, but there are small vibrating motors on the back of the glove. The text is then translated in Lorm and communicated via vibrations.
The Mobile Lorm Glove could allow deaf-blind people to make more connections and communicate with more than one person at a time. 
The glove is still a prototype but has already had practical applications in the real world.
“I can send and receive — it’s easy,” Edi Haug, a deaf-blind man, told the BBC through the glove's translations. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Apple Watch May Include Accessibility Features for Blind and Low Vision Users

According to a 9to5Mac article detailing the leaked Apple Watch companion app, Apple Watch is rumored to include a certain level of VoiceOver support, as well as a number of other accessibility features:

  • Like Apple’s other products, Apple Watch will have a series of key accessibility features.
  • The Apple Watch will have a VoiceOver feature that can speak text that is displayed on the screen. Users will be able to scroll through text to be spoken using two fingers. VoiceOver can be enabled either by merely raising a wrist or by double tapping the display.
  • Users will also be able to zoom on the Apple Watch’s screen: double tap with two fingers to zoom, use two fingers to pan around, and double tap while dragging to adjust the zoom.
  • There will also be accessibility settings to reduce motion, control stereo audio balance, reduce transparency, switch to grayscale mode, disable system animations, and enable bold text.
While 9to5Mac’s information is most definitely leaked and thus should be taken as unofficial at best, 9to5Mac published a more recent article in which Tim Cook is said to have indicated that the Apple Watch would contain accessibility features:
Yes is the short answer. In every product we do, we want it to be accessible for everyone. This is not something that we sit around and figure out what the ROI is. I can give a rats what the ROI is. It’s one of those things that goes in the just and right column. So we want all of our products to be accessible.
Here again, one should regard this statement with some level of skepticism -especially since it was allegedly made at a private meeting at the Berlin Apple Store during a recent visit by Cook.
Further corroborating the assertion that Apple Watch will include at least some level of accessibility support, iMore’s Steven Aquino noted that there is an accessibility framework built into Apple’s publicly-available WatchKit SDK:
I spent some time looking through the Apple Watch SDK, but I hadn't found any references to Accessibility. After asking around on Twitter, I wasalerted to a WKInterfaceObject string of code that allows for Accessibility and localized text. I'm no computer programmer so I'm unable to fully understand what that means, but my low-level take is that, yes, Apple has baked in some Accessibility features into the Watch's operating system. What those features actually are remain to be seen, but it's comforting nonetheless to know that the Watch will be accessible, more or less.
While we had initially hoped that the iOS 8.2 Apple Watch companion app would provide some details as to what accessibility features the device will have, our testing has found that many of the settings (including where one would presumably find accessibility features) are not available without an Apple Watch being paired to the phone. We did note, however, that in the screen to pair the watch with an iPhone, the accessibility hint for the viewfinder image in the pairing screen directs VoiceOver users to "double tap the 'Pair Apple Watch Manually' button for an accessible alternative" to pairing the watch using the iPhone camera's viewfinder.
At this point, this is all we know about possible accessibility features of Apple Watch. As more information emerges in the coming weeks, we will update this post accordingly.

Another Great Resource for VoiceOver and the Mac

For those folks looking for another good resource on learning the Mac and VoiceOver, National Braille Press has just released the newest edition of Janet Ingber’s book, Everything You Need to Know to Use the Mac with Yosemite. I was honored and humbled to have been asked by Janet to help review the book and provide feedback and suggestions.
It is a well written and easy to follow book that will assist both the new user and someone looking to augment their current knowledge of the Mac and VoiceOver. It is definitely worth to have in your possession, and I am not simply saying this because I was a very small part in the process of its release.
As the Mac and VoiceOver has grown in its popularity and use among the blind, good, helpful and comprehensive resources are becoming more and more necessary. For some reason, to my knowledge, there has not been an awful lot of books pertaining to the Mac and VoiceOver available out there. Janet does a fantastic job in addressing this need and I highly recommend it to everyone who reads this blog.
To get further information about, Everything You Need to Know to Use the Mac with Yosemite, and to purchase the book, please visit the
the NBP site.

Seven-year-old gets 3D-printed Iron Man prosthetic from Robert Downey Jr.

Everyone knows that some superheroes are made, not born. You don't need to be from another planet or get bitten by anything radioactive to become one — you just need the right gear. In this video from non-profit prosthetic maker Limbitless Solutions, Robert Downey Jr. (aka Iron Man) steps in to demonstrate this first hand. Downey delivers a 3D-printed prosthetic arm modeled after his character's super-powered gauntlets to Alex, a 7-year-old born with a partially developed right arm. There's no Arc Reactor in sight, mind you, but even heroic kids needs to take it slowly when dealing with Iron Man's gear.
Limbitless Solutions is a project run out of the University of Central Florida by Albert Manero, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering and a Fulbright scholar. He and the other Limbitless volunteers use new technology like 3D printing to create cheap, electronic prosthetics for children, giving away the results for free. Often, young people don't get the prosthetics they really need simply because it's too expensive to buy designs that won't fit in a year's time. That's not the case with Limbitless' work, however. While conventional electronic prosthetics cost tens of thousands of dollars, Alex's arm needed just $350 for materials. With prices like this, the Limbitless team were able to afford the arm just by pooling their "coffee money." If you feel like donating yourself, there's a link to do so in the top right of their site.