Therapeutic Research Foundation Innovates for the Blind Using QoLT Center Expertise in Vision-Quality of Life Technology Center - Carnegie Mellon University

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Therapeutic Research Foundation Innovates for the Blind Using QoLT Center Expertise in Vision

Immersive Navigational Informatics System Readied for Market

(Old Saybrook, CT) - The Therapeutic Research Foundation (TRF), a CT non-profit biotechnology corporation dedicated to charitable purposes, announced today it will collaborate with the National Science Foundation-sponsored Quality of Life Technology Center (QoLT) at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh to establish a comprehensive visual assist system for the blind and people with other visual impairments.

Current technology for the blind is still clumsy and archaic in comparison to the rapidly changing smartphone, iPad and laptop computer. In contrast, the TRF has a key innovation involving a high-tech informatics system for navigation, which will offer dramatic improvements by leveraging the QoLT Center's expertise in computer vision, perception and awareness, personal mobility and human system interaction.

The TRF proprietary project creates a system for enhancing the ability of low-vision and blind persons to navigate and interact with their surroundings by constructing a virtual 3-D environment for an Immersive Navigational Informatics System.  The system builds and communicates a description of the virtual environment for users and allows for further electronic interactions to occur via voice/speech-recognition software.  Alerting mechanisms (e.g. audio and/or sensory feedback components) will also integrate with the system to establish a comprehensive visual solution.

TRF is currently raising additional monies to finalize the research, development and validation of these projects, and then provide educational training for new users.  Interested parties can contribute directly to these projects by making a donation on the TRF website.

"The successful availability of this promising innovation can potentially decrease the annual health expenditures of the blind which are currently estimated at $7,000 more per year than the non-blind, while increasing potential for employment," said Dr.'s David Shearer, M.D. (CEO) and Richard Lutes, M.D. (CMO) of the TRF.  Prof. Emeritus Stanley Katz from Quinnipiac University (TRF Board of Directors) described this innovation as the "first real step towards facilitating spatial awareness for the blind."

According to the World Health Organization, there are 285 million people who are visually impaired and 39 million people who are blind worldwide.  In the U.S. alone, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (2011), more than 3.6 million people over 40 years of age are visually impaired and more than one million people are identified as being legally blind.  The global cost of vision loss is nearly 3 trillion dollars annually.

"The QoLT Center shares TRF's commitment to enhancing the current market of available assistive devices by applying emerging technologies directly to user needs," said Jim Osborn, Executive Director of the QoLT Center.  "The application of computer vision, specifically to aid low-vision and blind individuals, shows tremendous potential to reveal new insights on the design of any symbiotic system that mediates between a human user and an engineered system."

The Quality of Life Technology Center has completed prior work in intelligent systems to aid blind and low vision persons.  Earlier research and development (R&D) works include:  Smart Wayfaring Signs, a sensor networked solution for connecting walking canes to directional signage inside buildings to better convey navigation information; Computer Vision for Assistive Navigation - a set of algorithms that allow artificial vision devices to perceive detailed scene information; development of a Retinal Prosthesis for restoring functional vision to the blind; and, - in collaboration with Wicab, Inc. - enhancement of the BrainPort, a wearable camera and sensory substitution system that converts recorded views into electrical signals that a user feels on the tongue and interprets as seen images.

Education and awareness will be pivotal to the successful implementation of these new assistive technologies for blind and low-vision users.  A portion of funds raised by the TRF will be dedicated to implementing user training, education and awareness programs.  A related and key initiative is to apply these tools and other technology enhanced devices to increase the earning potential of the blind and low vision population.  Given the size of this population, the blind are a tremendously underutilized resource; by enabling greater earnings opportunities for this population, we will not only increase their quality of life but also the lives of others in their communities.

You can get more information on TRF at http://tr-f.org and can follow on Twitter @trf_md.

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About the Therapeutic Research Foundation, Inc. (TRF):
The Therapeutic Research Foundation, Inc. (TRF) is a non-profit, biotechnology company, with a mission to develop innovative, affordable, and therapeutic medical solutions to address the unmet global health needs of all people.  With the help of strategic alliances, partnerships with academia and industry, the strength and giving of the people and philanthropists alike, TRF has entered into a new frontier of research and development:  taking otherwise untouchable therapies - experimental drugs and treatments with only limited profit margins, and conducting the necessary R&D to take products to market.  The TRF serves as an innovative scientific platform to develop needed therapies.  (http://www.tr-f.org)

About the Quality of Life Technology Center (QoLT Center):
The Quality of Life Technology Center is a National Science Foundation (NSF) Engineering Research Center (ERC) focused on the development of intelligent systems that improve quality of life for everyone while enabling older adults and people with disabilities.  The QoLT Center addresses the needs and activities of everyday living by prototyping personal and assistive robots, cognitive and behavioral virtual coaches, safe mobility and driver assistance technologies, and human health and wellness monitoring, awareness and assistance solutions for home or community.  QoLT Research emphasizes human-system interaction with attention to social, clinical and policy factors for consumer deployment and user adoption.  In addition to R&D, the Center offers educational programs, commercialization initiatives and unique partnership opportunities.  The QoLT Center is a collaborative partnership of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh.

Photos from left to right: Gaze Tracking Research at CMU (courtesy of Martial Hebert); Smart Wayfaring Signs at Pitt (Hyun Wook Ka pictured; taken by Kristen Sabol); Wicab's BrainPort device (courtesy of Wicab, Inc.)

By: Anthony Berry, 860.205.6539