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Dr. Amir Amedi

By MYRON LOVE
Before the year is out, Professor Amir Amedi is hopeful that new devices that he and his colleagues have invented will allow the blind to better navigate their surroundings and greatly enhance their lives.

 

 

 


“We are almost ready to begin distributing our products,” he says, “but it all comes down to funding. We want our devices to be affordable for the widest number of people. For that, we need partners. We are currently speaking to partners in Canada, the United States, Europe and Israel.”
Amedi, a Professor at the Department of Medical Neurobiology at the Hebrew University and Postdoctoral and Instructor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, was in Winnipeg last week (Tuesday, July 16) to address the members of the Winnipeg chapter of the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University. Over 40 members of the chapter were in attendance at the home of Murray Palay and Ivy Kopstein to hear Amedi talk about the future in terms of research into brain neuroplasticity and multisensory integration.
The internationally acclaimed Amedi (who is currently doing research at McGill University’s Neurological Institute) has a long history with the Hebrew University. “My original goal was to be a marine biologist,” he says. “But, after taking a course on neuroscience, I was hooked. It seemed obvious to me that the study of the brain was the next frontier and I wanted to be a part of it.”
Amedi earned his Ph.D. from the Hebrew University in 2005, followed by three years of post-doctoral study at Harvard. In 2007, he returned to Jerusalem and opened his lab for the study of brain neuroplasticity and multisensory integration.
“All reading is centered in one area of the brain,” he explains. “While vision is involved in reading, reading is built on the brain’s ability to change the combination of letters into recognizable visual symbols that people translate into words. Reading using Braille also involves the brain translating recognizable symbols into words.
“While Braille is one solution for helping the blind, it is limited in what it could do. It got us thinking about how we could manipulate the brain to build on what Braille does.”
Two years ago, Amedi and a partner, Tomer Behor, co-founded ReNewSenses revolutionizing the way people with visual impairment experience the world. ReNewSenses’ patented A.I. (which Amedi demonstrated for this reporter) provides a solution for visually-impaired people to more easily navigate in public and at home.
The A.I. Cane, a handheld device much easier to use than the traditional white cane, connects to a smartphone and is designed to vibrate when detecting obstacles and identify objects with artificial intelligence, allowing users the ability to understand what objects are around them, where they are located, and even how they appear.
To further expand the world for the blind, ReNEwSenses has also developed EyeMusic, a patented algorithm which enables users to “see” through sound. With EyeMusic, users will be able to identify objects and people around them, know where everything is spatially located, and will even know how objects and people visually appear. The ultimate goal, as explained by Amedi, is to enable people who are blind or visually-impaired to live a more independent and productive life.
“With our algorithm, we can help blind people to see the world around them using sound and music,” Amedi explains. “Our camera sends the images through a computer that uses sound to create pixels which allows visually-impaired people to read faces and colours. We have also developed a method of teaching our users how to use our devices in just 10-40 hours.
“We have scanned the brains of individuals in our test groups before and after using our equipment and found interesting results. After they learn how to use our devices, we find enhanced stimulation in the area of the occipital lobe that is controls vision.”
And while the standard theory has been that babies who don’t receive the proper visual experiences within the first few months never develop their sight, Amedi and his researchers have demonstrated that the dramatic adult neuroplasticity of the brain developing without visual experience he repeatedly demonstrated - should also allows babies born with cataracts, for example, to develop vision later after the cataracts have been removed when they are adult. This was indeed the case as reported by several teams in the US and Europe.
“There is no age limit when it comes to learning how to operate our devices,” Amedi says. “We had a patient of 65 learn the language in only 30 hours.
“Using our equipment, a visually-impaired person on entering a room no longer has to wait for someone to help him to a chair. He would be able to navigate the room and find his own seat.”
Amedi further reports that ReNEwSense is also working to develop AI solutions for the hearing impaired.

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