Aerden (aerden) wrote,

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The eCane: Or, When is it too much technology?

I received this in email. It's reposted from the ACBT group, which I'm guessing is something to do with the American Council for the Blind. For people unfamiliar with me, I work in vision rehabilitation and have low vision.

An innovative new Assistive Technology called the eCane is anticipated in the market based on a patent that has just been announced. It uses a combination of old and new technologies to produce a smart cane for people who are blind, or deaf and blind (deafblind). It provides communications and navigation on numerous levels. Moreover the eCane is not limited by the
restrictions that GPS units have by not being able to function indoors or near tall buildings.

The device can tell a blind person if a specific object is in the immediate area. For example, if a person is in a hotel lobby, the eCane can tell the user if there is an elevator, or a restroom in the immediate area. After receiving a command, the cane will guide the person to an elevator or restroom, and in the case of the restroom tell if it is a men's, women's, or coed restroom. An important feature of the eCane is the ability to correct any deviations in the course towards a destination.

When a user is walking in the street, the eCane can inform a person what stores are in the area and how to get to a specific store in which they have an interest. The device can also tell a person which street they are on and when they reach an intersection, it will inform them of the name of the cross street as well.

Communication for and with Deafblind Users
One of the most exciting aspects of the eCane is its communications capability. This capability is enabled by an innovative use of both old and new technology. Using the eCane a person who is both deaf and blind can communicate with others regardless of whether they are deaf or hearing.

The person who is deafblind would know what the hearing person says and the hearing person will hear a voice that says what the deafblind person has said by communicating it to the eCane. The person who is deafblind communicates by keying into the eCane what they want to say by using Morse code. The cane translates the response from the hearing person into Morse code and vibrates the code to the deafblind user. The eCane uses voice recognition technology to translate the response from the hearing user into Morse code. Using the eCane a deafblind person can now have a conversation with a hearing person without having to rely on an interpreter to do finger spelling in the palm of his or her hand.

About the inventor
Dr. Ron Liebermann, the inventor of the electronic cane is the president of Signtel Inc, the makers of the acclaimed Signtel Interpreter that was developed with a team that included over100 deaf employees of Signtel. Among his many inventions, he holds patents for the Telephone for the Deaf, which allows communication between hearing and deaf persons, without utilizing the relay service, The Fast Cash Transactions (FCT) – the forefather of the mobile electronic banking system and a TV for persons who are both deaf and blind.

Ron Liebermann has a Ph.D. in astrophysics from the University of Oxford, England. He was an associate professor of physics at the Federal University in Brazil and later moved to Yale University where he worked on the Hubble Telescope. His social contributions predate his work on behalf of deaf, blind and deaf-blind persons, volunteering time in his community. He created the New Haven Police Stress Unit and later the New Haven Police Hostage Negotiations Team together with former Chief Bill Farrell, for which he received a letter of commendation from the Board of Police Commissioners and also an award from the City of New Haven. Dr. Liebermann also headed a successful startup company in telecommunications. Dr. Liebermann is the first to acknowledge that in order to stay focused, yet bring the eCane product to market he needs to team up with others and says he'd welcome any interest from seasoned entrepreneurs, business people and companies to usher such products to market. Dr. Liebermann can be reached at Signtel 203-248-0600 or via the 'Contact Us' form at Signtel's website.

My thoughts on this: This sounds like a way-cool, useful device, and I love neat gadgets. It could be particularly helpful for people who are deafblind. But I begin to wonder if this is perhaps too much technology for people who can hear well and only have a vision impairment. I think what it will do, if it comes into widespread use, is make blind people more dependent on this technology than on using their senses to figure out the world around them.

Since it is a tech-heavy device, it has the potential to malfunction. If it malfunctions for a person who has become too dependent upon it or is newly blind and can't yet function on their own, that person could be left stranded, if they don't know how to orient themselves properly and don't know the geographic layout of an area. Most experienced blind people get around by building a map of a place in their heads. With this eCane, they won't have to do that, since the cane will tell them what the cross-streets and so forth are.

Then, take public restrooms. Granted, though they are supposed to have Braille signage, not all restrooms do, and not all people with vision impairments can read Braille. In a case where there's no Braille labeling or the person can't read Braille, and there's no one around to ask, yes, I can see that an eCane would be useful for reading the sign. It would certainly be more elegant than poking your head into the men's restroom and calling out, "Is this the women's room?" But will it make people lose skills, if they start depending on it to tell them things, instead of just reaching out and feeling or sniffing for what they need to know?

Interesting issues raised by this. I would love to get Doug Boone's opinion of it. He's an excellent orientation & mobility instructor, and my estimation of him is that he favors anything that will make you as self-reliant as possible. I'm not sure he would like this thing. I'm not sure I do, either.
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