I write about digital often. This post is one of my favorites. Although it is not strictly about business continuity and critical event management I felt compelled to include it on Ultimate Business Continuity as it might help one person that reads it in a life-changing way. I have receive wonderful feedback on this post from people that have read it.
Worldwide, approximately one billion people have a disability, as stated by the World Health Organization. Helping the disabled is a broad category. Digital technology will change the lives of millions of people with disabilities. Soon most disabilities will only exist in our memories.
In my research for this post I came upon many stories of people that suffered catastrophic events such as strokes and accidents and many were effectively, ‘locked in their body’. They did not have the ability to move. In some cases, they only had the ability to move their eyes. Many other people lost their sight or ability to walk. Digital transformation can transform their lives, which is why this post touched me the most of any on UltimateBusinessContinuity.com.
Whether you have a disability or not this post is about thinking without limits. For example, it has been estimated that the BCI (brain-computer-interface market) can grow to 14 billion dollars by 2024. Although the focus of this post is centered on helping the disabled, these technologies can be applied to many other use cases and verticals. They may help you in your personal life, business or in the assistance of someone you know. Think big and out-of-the-box as the innovators in this post have. Anything and everything is possible.
My hope is that everyone reading this post understands how life-changing technology, innovation and creativity can be. If there is a need you have and you cannot find a place to get help with it contact me and I will try to assist you.
Perhaps, your business can aid people in some way. Happily, large corporations such as Microsoft, Dell and Citibank are using digital assisted technologies to help disabled people become assimilated into the workplace.
Many apps are available to assist people with disabilities. For example, SeeingAI.com, is a great free AI app from Microsoft that can be life-changing for people with disabilities. It is designed for the low vision community and uses your mobile device camera to describe people, text and objects.
In the spirit of experimentation, it was built as a research project at a hackathon in July 2017 and has millions of downloads. I saw a demo and immediately downloaded it. If you know anyone you think can benefit from it, please spread the word. I would also be interested in feedback if it was helpful.
Be My Eyes (bemyeyes.com), a winner of the Google Play Store 2018 Best App Awards, is a free Android and IOS app that connects blind and low vision people with sighted volunteers and company representatives for visual assistance through a live video call. The sighted person can assist the blind person with questions and tasks. The scope of questions is wide. For example, in a supermarket ‘which cookies am I buying’ or ‘which color apples am I buying?’ For public transportation, ‘how many minutes does the screen say until the next bus arrives?’ These are situations that many sighted people take for granted and the volunteers can be so helpful and comforting to people without sight.
There are many heartwarming stories of how volunteers have made life better and more independent for people using the platform. I am now proudly a volunteer!
AssistiveWare (http://www.assistiveware.com) has a mission to empower people through innovative technology. They have developed several assistive technology software products for Apple’s Mac OS X, iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.
In addition, at the request of their users, AssistWare collaborated on developing text-to-speech in children’s voices. Nearly half of the users are under the age of 12 and unfortunately there were no genuine children’s voices yet available. Users would use adult voices or artificially modified voices with raised tones that sounded like they had inhaled helium. This meant that most young AssistWare users had to speak in a voice they could not identify with and which seemed unnatural or implausible to their communication partners. The new text to speech voices helped children fit in better with their peers. You can listen to various children’s voices from different countries here – http://www.assistiveware.com/innovation/creating-genuine- childrens-voices
A prosthetic hand can cost thousands of dollars. Children can quickly outgrow them as they get older. e-NABLE network, (enablingthefuture.org) which is a volunteer network, now makes it possible for many children to have a new prosthetic hand for a fraction of the cost by printing them with 3D printers. I suggest you visit their website and watch a couple of videos. I think you will shed some tears of joy. This is what enabling technology is all about!
Here is an idea, if you have 3D printers sitting idle possibly they can be used to print prosthetics to transform lives and make you and your organization feel good.
In addition to prosthetics, other types of medical devices produced by 3D printing include orthopedic and cranial implants, surgical instruments and dental restorations such as crowns. Life-saving internal organs such as wind- pipes have been printed by hospitals.
In 1986, a group of engineers gathered in a basement in Virginia and founded LC Technologies. Since its founding, the company has pioneered the development of eye tracking technology for over 26 years. Their Award-winning Eyegaze Edge® (eyegaze.com) has a long-standing reputation for accuracy, reliability, and ease-of-use. LC Technologies now operates in 44 countries.
400,000 people worldwide are effected by motor neuron diseases and multiple sclerosis affects 2.3 million people. The late Professor Stephen Hawking was effected by motor neuron disease but was able to lead a fulfilling life using technology that enabled him to use eye movement to control a computer.
Their eye-tracking systems, are hands-off, unobtrusive, remote human-computer interfaces. All of their eye tracking systems have consistent gaze point prediction and accuracy even when a subject falls outside the “norm”. There are a wide range of applications but the first systems were designed to enable severely disabled individuals to communicate using only their eyes. To date, their technologies are now being implemented in research, national defense, gaming, virtual worlds, hospitals and many more areas. Possibly they could add value to your industry and customers.
How does the Eyegaze Edge speech generating device improve communication in the home? Families that contact LC Technologies Inc. for eye gaze communication solutions come to them, as they are experiencing communication declines in the home with their loved ones. Since communication is a shared activity, not only do these declines impact the individual who has lost his voice, but greatly impacts relationships with family members, caregivers and friends as well.
With declines in speaking ability, before receiving an eye gaze communication device, an individual often experiences:
- Failed attempts to communicate their intended messages
- Abandonment of ideas
- Reduced participation in daily routines
- Decreased sense of connectedness with the world around them
- Increased frustration, despair or sadness
- Dependence upon communication partners to interpret communication attempts
- Dependence upon communication partners to anticipate daily wants and needs
Eyegaze Edge allows the individual to once again:
- Type and create messages using their own voice
- Advocate for themselves
- Participate in family decision making
- Agree or disagree with someone
- Express their wants, needs and desires
- Communicate in emergency situations
- Direct the behavior of caregivers
- Engage people in their community
- Work from home
- Use a telephone, the internet and send text messages
- Participate in leisure activities
- Participate in support groups
- Nurture family relationships through communication
eSight (https://www.esighteyewear.com/) has created digital technology to help the visually impaired see the world, and change it too. eSight restores functional sight, and allows the
visually impaired to see faces, read, work, study, and participate in virtually any activity.
Throughout UltimateBusinessContinuity.com, I tried to communicate that if you dream it, you can make it happen. eSight says it perfectly on why they created their life-changing product: ’Our movement began when our founder dared to dream of a better world for his two legally blind sisters. He wanted nothing more than to see them be truly mobile and independent — free of the limitations that came with blindness, and the many single- purpose assistive devices that had become the norm.’
I was further moved by their ‘What we deeply value’ mission statement:
‘Our core belief is that Everyone Deserves to See. We believe in universal access to sight and the experiences, both essential and beautiful, that it enables. This has inspired our iconic global commitment to Make Blindness History by 2020, now that a technology as transformational as eSight exists.
We will turn the tide on the sky-high unemployment rates, educational challenges, and discrimination that have followed the legally blind for far too long.’
On their site, they have a short, ‘Want to know if eSight will change your life?’ express screening to find out if eSight can be of help to you.
Handisco (handisco.com) is the inspirational story of a French start-up that partnered with the digital giant, Cisco, to build Sherpa, an innovative solution that can benefit millions of people. This type of combination can have powerful results as demonstrated below. I also suggest this video that shows the product in action and presents a high-level road- map of how a startup goes from concept to market (https://newsroom.cisco.com/video- content?type=webcontent&articleId=1863824)
The following is used with the permission of http://thenetwork.cisco.com/
With support from Cisco, French start-up Handisco developed an IoT walking stick to help visually impaired people navigate around their communities.
Imagine trying to navigate a busy town without the benefit of sight, using only a grey cane to help you safely get around. A couple of college students saw the problem and wanted to
come up with a solution to make getting around town a little easier for the visually impaired.
They came up with a design for an IoT enabled device that straps onto a cane and is Bluetooth enabled.
Soon after, they created their company, Handisco. “Handisco comes from the French prefix Handi, which is the French word for disabled people,” says Florian Esteves, one of the company’s co-founders.
Through their university, Handisco’s co-founders heard about a competition sponsored by Cisco, called the Switch- Up Challenge. They entered two years ago, and won not only seed money to get their company off the ground, but also mentoring from Cisco employees. “It was good help for us because we were rookies,” Esteves said. “We are engineers so we do not know so much about strategy.”
The web site is in French but you can use your browser translate feature or other languages. As of August 2018, Sherpa works everywhere in metropolitan France and in French speaking Europe (Belgium, Luxembourg, etc.). Assistance with public transport is available in the 40 metropolises covered. New cities are coming and may already be available when you read this.
The young entrepreneurs called their creation Sherpa, after the Himalayan mountain guides. “For us, it’s kind of the same thing in the city,” Esteves said. “The goal of this product is to help people to achieve more and more things in the city.”
The Sherpa works by using GPS and IoT technology, and can communicate and connect with a pedestrian light to let someone know when it’s safe to cross the street.
The Sherpa can also guide someone with step by step directions and can give them detailed information on bus routes and pickup times.
“We have been supporting Handisco for a few years now through their incubation phases and now indeed they’re ready to go to market,” said Alain Fiocco, a Cisco Senior Director in Engineering.
Bristol Braille Technology (http://www.bristolbraille.co.uk) is a Social Enterprise working from the Bristol Hackspace. They are building a revolutionary and affordable Braille e- reader for blind people called the Canute 360, designed with and by the blind community. It has been described as a sort
of braille Kindle. The product was in the testing phase in August 2018 with a goal of launching later in the year.
Better Hearing aids – For many decades hearing aids were analog. When they receive sounds they amplify them. Foreground voices and background noise both get amplified. In 1995 hearing aids were disrupted by going digital. A digital hearing aid includes a tiny microprocessor that converts sound waves to digital signals. This enables them to enhance the sound and filter out unwanted noise. There will be many more benefits from digital hearing aids as our
world continues the digital explosion.
Autism – One out of every 68 children in the United States is on the autism spectrum per the CDC. Digital tools have been reported to help children with autism. I have seen emotional reports from parents on how technology changed the lives of their children. Autism Speaks has an informative page focused on technology and feedback from visitors at https://www.autismspeaks.org/family-services/community- connections/technology-and-autism.
Bypassing Damaged Body Parts with Digital Substitutes Second Sight – Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System (http://www.secondsight.com) provides electrical stimulation of the retina to induce visual perception in blind individuals. It is indicated for use in patients with severe to profound retinitis pigmentosa.
Here is how it works – a miniature video camera housed in the patient’s glasses captures a scene. The video is transmitted to a small patient-worn computer where the video is processed and transformed into instructions that are sent back to the glasses via a cable.
These instructions are transmitted wirelessly to an antenna in the retinal implant. The signals are then sent to the electrode array, which emits small pulses of electricity. These pulses bypass the damaged photo-receptors and stimulate the retina’s remaining cells, which transmit the visual information along the optic nerve to the brain, creating the perception of patterns of light. Patients learn to interpret these visual patterns with their retinal implant.
The company that developed the Argus II System, Second Sight, is testing a new device called Orion which
does not require glasses. In January 2018, they announced that the first human patient to receive the Orion cortical visual prosthesis system was implanted with the device, as part of a feasibility clinical study.
Bypassing the damaged retina altogether
Second Sight called the first-in-human implant of the Orion a significant milestone, and a critical step forward in its development of devices that it believes could potentially treat nearly all forms of blindness.
The Orion implant applies a similar principle but bypasses the eye altogether. It is implanted into the surface of the brain itself near the visual cortex, in which it stimulates directly with the signals received from the wearable video camera after processing.
This architecture avoids the use of the damaged retina and the optic nerve altogether, in an analogous fashion to the principle behind cochlear implants used as a treatment for deafness, and could therefore be of value in the treatment of multiple forms of vision loss. It does, however, involve more invasive surgery than an epiretinal implant. In addition, the precise workings of the brain’s visual cortex are complex and still not fully understood.
Mind to Internet Interface: Soon you will be able to communicate with the Internet and physical devices directly from your brain. There will be no keyboard, touchscreen or voice commands are required! Your thoughts will interface directly with systems. You can request a ride-share, change the channels on your TV or Google anything you can think of.
For people with certain disabilities this can be life- changing. Imagine being bed-ridden and unable to move. Even if you can move your eyes, going straight to the brain is much faster, more natural and less tedious than eye movement to input letters or symbols or to control a stylus with your mouth or foot. There is also experimentation on combining Brain Computer Interfaces with virtual reality and artificial intelligence to improve medical research by creating accurate simulations of the brain. But, is all of this pie-in-the- sky? You be the judge:
The goal of an interface to the brain is not new. Researcher William Dobelle developed a prototype that was implanted in
1978 into a man blinded in adulthood. A 68-electrode single- array BCI was implanted onto the visual cortex and succeeded to give the patient the sensation of seeing light.
The system naturally was cumbersome, as the technology of the period was nothing like the present. It included cameras mounted on glasses (sort of like Google Glass) that sent signals to the implant. Amazingly the implant allowed the subject to see shades of grey, although in a limited field of vision and the subject had to be hooked up to a mainframe computer. All this hardware has now been miniaturized to fit on a chip.
MIT Media Lab is an amazing place. They are a modern-day Xerox Park, responsible for planting the seeds of the future. Many of the magical technology advances we now take for granted, such as autonomous car routing and the first eBook with full font rendering in the 1970’s, originated at MIT.
In April 2018, an episode of CBS’s 60 Minutes focused on the MIT Media Lab. I learned of a jaw-dropping thought transfer project at MIT. Scott Pelley, the interviewer, and I were both amazed and I knew instantly I had to mention it on UltimateBusinessContinuity.com.
Arnav Kapur is the project leader of AlterEgo. It consists of a wearable device that intercepts electrical signals, which the brain normally transmits to vocal cords. Instead, it sends the information to a computer. The device has a safety feature so it does not reveal a user’s private thoughts. It must deliberately be activated by “internally vocalizing,” (talking to yourself).
When the thoughts are sent to a computer the words can be displayed on a screen, vocalized or sent to a search engine as a question or to a device as a request to perform a task.
The computer then sends the response back as vibrations transmitted through the user’s skull and are transferred to the inner ear which the user hears internally.
Amazingly, Arnav and his team had only been working on the project for one year as of the airing TV episode. The implications for people with disabilities is profound.
This is a link to beyond the scenes of the AlterEgo part of the episode: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/mit-media-lab- where-tomorrows-technology-is-born/.
Below is a link to the entire video of the episode that includes AlterEgo at the beginning and additional mind- boggling projects, including a person controlling a prosthetic with his thoughts as part of the incredible work of Professor Hugh Herr, who leads an advanced prosthetics lab. I highly recommend this inspirational video: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/mit-media-lab-making- ideas-into-reality-future-factory/
Regina Dugan directs Facebook’s secretive research and hardware lab Building 8. Previously she ran the U.S. military’s research lab, DARPA, and then worked at Google. Facebook is building what it calls a “brain-computer speech- to-text interface” technology that is supposed to translate your thoughts directly from your brain to a computer screen without any need for speech or fingertips.
The idea is that this technology will be able to take what you are thinking to yourself in silence, using non- invasive sensors that can read exactly what you intend to say, and turn it into readable text.
Two proven entrepreneurs are taking a crack at making BCI a reality using brain implants. Both are in the beginning stages as of 2018 but because each of these people are ‘finishers’ (they do what they say) I wanted to at least mention their newborn companies. Whereas, skull-caps commonly used for BCI are termed ‘non-invasive’, this technology is termed ‘invasive’, as it must be implanted in the brain. People are already having other types of chips implanted as I described earlier, so someday brain implants might be as standard as other implants. That said, it must be regulated very carefully.
If he is not changing the world enough, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, is launching a new company focused on brain-computer interface technology, called Neuralink (neuralink.com).
Bryan Johnson launched Kernel (kernel.co). He previously founded Braintree which was acquired by PayPal
for 800 million dollars. His idea is centered on tiny brain implants to expand the bounds of human intelligence.
As futuristic as all the above sounds, I am confident we will surpass all of it by 2040. As you have learned in this post we have already figured out how to encode brain analog signals to digital so anything is possible. We can transfer thoughts and control IoT objects. We can transmit questions to Google and receive answers.
So why couldn’t we take it a step further and do brain to brain thought transfers? Possibly, in the beginning it would not be direct B2B (brain to brain) but through a secure (possibly tied to a DNA marker) interface that accepts the thought, matches it with a B2B directory and sends it to a receiving party that ‘friended’ the sender. The receiver would consume the thought using a non-invasive or invasive chip.
Along the way, I predict a software brain operating system (BOS) and carefully regulated standards will be developed to make it easier to build safe and secure devices and applications. Medical professionals will work side-by-side with software engineers to free people from the constraints of disability.
People that do not have disabilities will also benefit from brain to brain thought transfer. There will be no more hardware to carry around, recharge and possibly lose. Just a miniature cell-size interface that can be powered by the body and last for decades or a lifetime. Imagine, the knowledge of the Internet only a thought away. Say goodbye to charging your clumsy devices every day or typing commands! Our ancestors will laugh that we carried eco- unfriendly mechanical devices everywhere we went.