BIN LIU’S FA­THER HAS GLAU­COMA. The con­di­tion causes dam­age to the op­tic nerve and can re­sult in grad­ual nar­row­ing of pe­riph­eral vi­sion and, if un­treated, it can progress to com­plete vi­sion loss. “He’s a very, very stub­born guy. And I don’t see him us­ing a cane or a guide dog,” he says. He knew any vis­ual aid his fa­ther con­sid­ered would have to be dis­creet. Find­ing noth­ing suit­able on the mar­ket, Lui, a Uni­ver­sity of Toronto civil en­gi­neer grad, de­cided to de­sign his own so­lu­tion.

Buz­zClip is an as­sis­tive de­vice that can be held or clipped onto cloth­ing or a cane. Us­ing sonar, it lo­cates ob­sta­cles and no­ti­fies the user with a vi­brat­ing pulse that changes as ob­jects get closer. And as Liu ex­plains, the echolo­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy can sense some­thing as small as the thinnest of tree branches – a mil­lime­tre in di­am­e­ter, to be ex­act. Last year the de­vice gar­nered an award for in­no­va­tion and, since launch­ing in 2016, is now sold in 24 coun­tries in­clud­ing by the Cana­dian Na­tional In­sti­tute for the Blind here in Canada.

But Liu isn’t stop­ping there. He notes that the in­ci­dence of vi­sion loss is ex­pected to in­crease as the pop­u­la­tion ages. To wit, ap­prox­i­mately one in three peo­ple de­velop some form of vi­sion-re­duc­ing eye dis­ease by the age of 65 – the most com­mon of which are age-re­lated mac­u­lar de­gen­er­a­tion, glau­coma, cataracts and di­a­betic retinopa­thy. “The core is­sue is those in­di­vid­u­als with vi­sion im­pair­ment, where it comes to nav­i­ga­tion, need a lot more ac­cu­racy,” he points out. So iMer­civ, the as­sis­tive tech com­pany he co-founded, is de­vel­op­ing a sys­tem that can pro­vide GPS co-or­di­nates down to the cen­time­tre. “Be­cause it doesn’t mat­ter how much in­for­ma­tion you pro­vide, if the bus stop is ac­tu­ally across the road – it’s not help­ful.” www.imer­ —Tara Losin­ski

Buz­zClip’s mesh sen­sor sits in a cir­cu­lar ring roughly the di­am­e­ter of a toonie.

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