SignAll is slowly but surely building a sign language translation platform

sign language computer

Translating is difficult work, the more so the further two languages are from one another. French to Spanish? Not a problem. Ancient Greek to Esperanto? Considerably harder. But sign language is a unique case, and translating it uniquely difficult, because it is fundamentally different from spoken and written languages. All the same, SignAll has been working hard for years to make accurate, real-time machine translation of ASL a reality.

One would think that with all the advances in AI and computer vision happening right now, a problem as interesting and beneficial to solve as this would be under siege by the best of the best. Even thinking about it from a cynical market-expansion point of view, an Echo or TV that understands sign language could attract millions of new (and very thankful) customers.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case — which leaves it to small companies like Budapest-based SignAll to do the hard work that benefits this underserved group. And it turns out that translating sign language in real time is even more complicated than it sounds.

CEO Zsolt Robotka and chief R&D officer Márton Kajtár were exhibiting this year at CES, where I talked with them about the company, the challenges they were taking on and how they expect the field to evolve. (I’m glad to see the company was also at Disrupt SF in 2016, though I missed them then.)

Perhaps the most interesting thing to me about the whole business is how interesting and complex the problem is that they are attempting to solve.

“It’s multi-channel communication; it’s really not just about shapes or hand movements,” explained Robotka. “If you really want to translate sign language, you need to track the entire upper body and facial expressions — that makes the computer vision part very challenging.”

Right off the bat that’s a difficult ask, since that’s a huge volume in which to track subtle movement. The setup right now uses a Kinect 2 more or less at center and three RGB cameras positioned a foot or two out. The system must reconfigure itself for each new user, since just as everyone speaks a bit differently, all ASL users sign differently.

“We need this complex configuration because then we can work around the lack of resolution, both time and spatial (i.e. refresh rate and number of pixels), by having different points of view,” said Kajtár. “You can have quite complex finger configurations, and the traditional methods of skeletonizing the hand don’t work because they occlude each other. So we’re using the side cameras to resolve occlusion.”

As if that wasn’t enough, facial expressions and slight variations in gestures also inform what is being said, for example adding emotion or indicating a direction. And then there’s the fact that sign language is fundamentally different from English or any other common spoken language. This isn’t transcription — it’s full-on translation.

“The nature of the language is continuous signing. That makes it hard to tell when one sign ends and another begins,” Robotka said. “But it’s also a very different language; you can’t translate word by word, recognizing them from a vocabulary.”

SignAll’s system works with complete sentences, not just individual words presented sequentially. A system that just takes down and translates one sign after another (limited versions of which exist) would be liable to creating misinterpretations or overly simplistic representations of what was said. While that might be fine for simple things like asking directions, real meaningful communication has layers of complexity that must be detected and accurately reproduced.

Somewhere between those two options is what SignAll is targeting for its first public pilot of the system, at Gallaudet University. This Washington, D.C. school for the deaf is renovating its welcome center, and SignAll will be installing a translation booth there so that hearing people can interact with deaf staff there.

Continue onto TechCrunch to read the complete article.

Google Debuts Wheelchair Accessible Routes in Google Maps

wheelchair accessible routes

Google Maps will now show wheelchair accessible routes in cities like Boston, New York, and London.

The search giant said Thursday that people can now use Google Maps to get directions that are catered specifically to people with mobility problems.

Although people can use Google Maps to get around using public transit, those routes may not be best suited for people with wheelchairs or who have other disabilities.

Google (GOOG, -3.63%) said that it teamed with transit agencies to help it catalogue the best wheelchair-accessible routes. To find those routes, Google Maps users enter where they want to go, tap on the “Directions” tab, and then choose “wheelchair accessible” as one of the options under the “Routes” section.

The company is debuting the new feature in major metropolitan areas worldwide. In addition to Boston, New York, and London, the option is available for Tokyo, Mexico City, and Sydney.

“We’re looking forward to working with additional transit agencies in the coming months to bring more wheelchair accessible routes to Google Maps,” Google product manager Rio Akasaka said in a blog post.

Continue onto Fortune to read the complete article.

This Smart Paint Talks To Canes To Help People Who Are Blind Navigate

ohio state school for the blind

The Ohio State School for the Blind is pioneering new technology that causes canes to vibrate when it touches lines of traffic paint.

The crosswalk on a road in front of the Ohio State School for the Blind looks like one that might be found at any intersection. But the white stripes at the edges are made with “smart paint”–and if a student who is visually impaired crosses while using a cane with a new smart tip, the cane will vibrate when it touches the lines.

The paint uses rare-earth nanocrystals that can emit a unique light signature, which a sensor added to the tip of a cane can activate and then read. “If you pulse a laser or LED into these materials, they’ll pulse back at you at a very specific frequency,” says Josh Collins, chief technology officer at Intelligent Materials, the company that manufacturers the oxides that can be added to paint.

As the company explored how the paint could be used with autonomous cars–the paint could, for example, help a car recognize an intersection or lane, or provide markers that make GPS much more accurate–they realized that the paint could also be useful for people who are blind.

A person who is blind usually relies on the sound of parallel traffic rushing by them on the side to help stay oriented while crossing the street and not veer out of a crosswalk (in some cities, beeping walk signals also help). But that doesn’t always work well, and it’s particularly challenging on streets with less traffic.

“It’s much easier to stay oriented when you can hear those traffic sounds,” says Mary Ball-Swartwout, an orientation and mobility specialist at the Ohio State School for the Blind, who helps teach students skills for navigating. “When we talk about lower-traffic areas, that’s where [smart paint and a smart cane] could really have a lot of use.”

Students at the state-run boarding school, which has a large, enclosed campus in Columbus, Ohio, will help researchers test several crossings with the new paint on the school’s internal streets. The paint, which can be clear or gray on a gray surface so it’s essentially invisible to sighted people, could also be used in other locations. “We’re also thinking about providing them with guidance as they move down a sidewalk or guidance about whether or not they’ve arrived at a bus stop or at a certain destination,” says John Lannuti, a professor of materials science engineering at Ohio State University who connected Intelligent Materials with the School for the Blind.

GPS, which isn’t precise enough to distinguish between a street or a sidewalk–and occasionally doesn’t even recognize the right street–isn’t a foolproof system for navigation. But the paint could help someone identify, for example, if they are standing on the northwest or southwest corner of an intersection, or the exact location of an entrance to a building. The paint could also be used with other navigation tools.

“What we’re envisioning is sort of a Google Maps for the blind, that says, okay, you want to go to the barbershop, and sets a path for you and tells you when you’ve arrived because the cane senses a stripe of paint associated with the barbershop,” Lannuti says. “There may be a point where a smartphone connected to the paint speaks to the user.”

Continue onto Fast Company to read the complete article.

Good Jobs for People with Learning Disabilities

Film editor

By Luke Redd

This category of disability sometimes gets overlooked, maybe because the different types of learning disabilities are so diverse. After all, one person might have imperfect reading, writing, or spelling abilities, whereas another person may have difficulty with using numbers, speaking, thinking, or listening. Even problems with memory, time management, and organization are sometimes considered learning disabilities.

Well-known conditions such as dyslexia and ADHD are only two of the many possible learning disabilities that can make it challenging to build a successful career. But you don’t have to be held back by your challenges. Some of humanity’s greatest contributors—such as Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein—may have had learning disabilities.

Although you might have challenges in one area, you may have real strengths and talents in another. For example, many people with at least one learning disability have valuable traits such as resilience, empathy, or creativity. Others seem to have a natural ability to speak in public or see the bigger picture. That’s why a lot of the careers that have already been mentioned (such as design and teaching) are often good jobs for people with learning disabilities. Here are a few other possibilities to consider:


A lot of people with dyslexia or other learning disabilities have a heightened ability to distinguish different faces and objects from one another while also visualizing how various elements can come together into a single image. Frequently, they are also good at quickly processing a whole series of images. As a result, filmmaking is often a worthwhile path to explore.

Average yearly wages:

  • Film and video editors—$80,300
  • Directors of motion pictures—$105,550


Big-picture thinking is a trait that many professionals with learning disabilities use to their advantage. In fact, some of the world’s most successful business people have said that they achieved prosperity because of dyslexia or other learning difficulties. They’ve been able to find connections between ideas that other people can’t see. And they’ve had the courage to persist in the face of all kinds of challenges.

Average yearly wages: varies widely, from less than $50,000 to more than $200,000


Since growing up with a learning disability can be very challenging, those who do often develop a lot of empathy for anyone else who is struggling. That’s why some people who have learning disabilities find that the field of counseling provides a good place for their talents. They can help comfort and advise other people with genuine understanding.

Average yearly wages:

  • Rehabilitation counselors—$38,040
  • Addictions counselors—$42,920
  • Mental health counselors—$45,080
  • School counselors—$56,490

Broadcast News Anchor or Correspondent

Special talents like public speaking come naturally to some people with learning disabilities. So it might be worth investigating careers that involve being in front of a camera or audience. Broadcast news is a fascinating option since you may be able to do a lot of public good by reporting on what’s happening in your community or around the nation.

Average yearly wages: $51,430

Nursing Assistant

This occupation is another option that can allow you to take advantage of your empathetic nature. Plus, providing basic care to medical patients or residents of nursing facilities can be a great way to experience a sense of pride and meaning. And you don’t have to learn much since the job typically involves relatively simple tasks like feeding, dressing, bathing, moving, and grooming patients.

Average yearly wages: $26,820


Accessibility TechTalk: The Future Of Accessible IT


Why does universal design matter, and how does it drive citizen engagement? How is the private sector approaching accessibility? What are some of the leading best practices that the government can learn from their partners in industry? What does the future hold for accessible IT? On December 13, the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT), supported by the General Services Administration (GSA), hosted a facilitated “Accessibility TechTalk” at Microsoft’s Innovation and Policy Center in Washington, DC to explore these issues. During the event, federal and industry executives from across the technology sector joined forces to share experiences, learn from each other, and discuss the future of accessible IT.

Setting Best Practices

The session kicked off with a lively discussion about the importance of universal design in developing accessible technology. With modernization challenges such as mobile security and generational shifts, developers have an imperative to design products that have a broad sense of functions. If solutions are designed with all users in mind, and encompass the needs of people with disabilities, more users benefit overall.

Universal design is the mode to help companies develop accessible solutions.

Improving citizen engagement is a goal for both the government and the tech industry. Involving the user (i.e. citizen) in the design process generally results in better products. Attendees agreed that universal design is the mode to help companies develop accessible solutions. Companies must adopt a user-centric design approach throughout development, rather than reactively respond to user needs once a product has been launched. While agile development methods can create challenges from an accessibility standpoint, teams can use these techniques to highlight accessibility issues and apply user-centered design techniques from the beginning.

Offering some industry perspective, one Fortune 500 company challenged others to gauge how accessible they really are and to set measurable goals for improvement. With the Revised 508 Standards coming into effect on January 18, 2018, and the common appearance of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 in procurement and solicitation documents, compliance remains an important factor for accessible IT. Yet, both federal and industry representatives emphasized that the Section 508 standards should be seen as the starting line, not the finish line.

Section 508 standards should be seen as the starting line, not the finish line.

Another recommendation was for the government to involve senior management, executives, and policymakers in setting accessibility strategy. Without executive buy-in, an agency will struggle to embed an inclusive mindset into its culture. Without communication from senior executives echoing the need for accessible IT, agencies will ultimately fail to make accessibility a priority.


The event also highlighted challenges and areas for improvement by both industry and government. While companies are developing innovative accessibility solutions using artificial intelligence and virtual reality, participants recognize that the journey to accessibility has only just begun. Though Section 508 defines compliance standards, there isn’t enough enforcement of 508 across the field. Standards should not be seen in isolation, but as part of the larger conversation around IT modernization.

Participants further pointed out the misguided assumption that technology alone solves accessibility challenges. Overreliance on technology means that individual user needs and access requirements aren’t considered in the design process. If accessibility was emphasized in higher education curricula, future developers and engineers would be better qualified to design solutions with accessibility in mind. The majority of TechTalk attendees agreed that greater training and awareness for technical and non-technical teams would help to push accessibility forward.

Accessibility is about improving access to systems, not limiting it.

Participants also discussed how Federal IT strategy is focused on modernization, upgrading legacy systems, moving to the cloud, and investing in cybersecurity. Cybersecurity, while a necessity, aims to limit access and protect information. However, the idea of building technology that is accessible for all relies on everyone being able to access tools and information. Several TechTalk participants emphasized that if the government invested a fraction of what it does on cybersecurity into improving access to systems, agencies would be better equipped to succeed with accessibility.

Key Takeaways

The event wrapped up with participants reflecting on key takeaways. It was clear that government and industry face similar issues when it comes to tackling accessibility. Moving forward, recommendations from the session include:

  • To shift how people approach accessibility, more public forums need to be created to incite citizen engagement.
  • Whether part of the design or testing phase, companies need to put the user at the center of the discussion.
  • Testing for accessibility provides a baseline standard and helps to better integrate users into the process.

Most importantly, participants highlighted that accessibility is a necessity, not a burden. To keep momentum, we need to broaden the mandate to provide universal access, and spread the word that accessible technology, designed for all, is the future.

For more information on accessible technology in the workplace, visit

Move Over Crutches and Knee Scooters, Now There’s Something Hands-Free and Much Better


According to the National Institutes of Health, there are around 6.5 million people in the country who use a cane, walker, or crutches to assist with their mobility. Many of these people are prescribed crutches or knee scooters for lower leg injuries. Yet those devices come with their own set of problems, making them difficult to use.

Crutches often lead to muscle atrophy, make it difficult to use the stairs, and if they fall to the floor it can become a gymnastics maneuver to try and pick them up. Millions of people are prescribed crutches or knee scooters for lower leg injuries. Now, those with lower leg injuries have a better option to consider, the iWALK2.0, which gives them hands-free ability to continue walking and having full use of their arms and hands.

“When people have the ability to try out the hands-free iWALK2.0, they can feel what a major difference and step up it is from using crutches or a knee scooter,” explains Brad Hunter, the innovator of iWALK2.0 and the chief executive officer of the company, iWalk Free. “It’s a revolutionary device that helps give people back their independence and mobility while they are healing from an injury. It doesn’t get much better than that.”

Crutches are known for being uncomfortable, often making it difficult for people to remain independent. They take full use of someone’s arms and hands. Leg scooters are also difficult to use because they lack the ability for the person to feel they are getting around in a somewhat normal fashion. These problems are what motivated the iWALK2.0 innovator to find a better, more comfortable way to help heal a broken ankle. The original prototype was created by a farmer named Lance, and when Brad found it he purchased half of the company and innovated the device. Sales really took off when Harrison Ford was photographed wearing it. The rest, as they say, is history.

The muscles around your upper leg and hip atrophy by as much as 2% a day while on crutches. That’s not so with iWALK2.0. Also, one’s blood flow to the lower extremities is typically reduced when using crutches, thus hampering the healing process and the transition between using crutches and walking without them can be difficult, but the iWALK2.0 makes the transition seamless. The iWALK2.0 is an alternative to 2,000-year-old crutches, and won the I-Novo Award for “best design” of any medical product, as voted on by 120,000 medical experts from around the world at an international conference held in Germany.

The iWALK2.0 is hands-free, easy to learn to use, it’s intuitive, and safe. From the knee up, the leg is doing the same walking motion that comes naturally to it. The device is essentially a temporary lower leg, which gives people their independence and mobility back as they recover from an injury. The device is pain-free, and makes it possible for people to engage in many of their normal routine activities, such as walking the dog, grocery shopping, and walking up stairs.

Since 1999, the company has brought thousands of people a more comfortable way to heal from many common lower leg injuries. Made of lightweight aluminum and engineered plastic, the device fits onto the leg, and allows people to do what they have always done. The crutches and knee scooter alternative, it has been the subject of numerous scientific studies and has won multiple awards from Medtrade, the largest medical device show in North America.<

“If you hurt your leg, you have a choice between arm crutches or our leg crutch, the iWALK2.0,” adds Hunter. “With all the benefits of the iWALK2.0 there is no reason to ever want to choose crutches or a leg scooter. The iWalk will keep you moving comfortably throughout the duration of your recovery.”

Clinical research, the results of which are on the company website, shows that patients using the iWALK2.0 heal faster, have a higher sense of satisfaction, and a higher rate of compliance. The iWALK2.0 sells for $149 and is available online and through select retailers. Some insurance companies may cover the cost of the device. The device can be used with a cast or boot, and comes with a limited warranty. For more information on the iWALK2.0, visit the site at: To see a video of the iWALK2.0 in action, visit:  iWalkFree.

About iWalk Free

The iWALK2.0 is a hands-free knee crutch, made by iWalk Free, that is a mobility device used instead of traditional crutches and knee scooters. It offers more comfort and independence, with the hands and arms remaining free. The device offers people a functional and independent lifestyle as they are recovering from many common lower leg injuries. For more information on the iWALK2.0, visit the site at:

# # #


National Institutes of Health. How many people use assistive devices?

Airbnb buys ‘Airbnb for disabled people’ startup Accomable in accessibility upgrade


Airbnb, the accommodation and travel startup that is now valued at $31 billion, is today announcing an acquisition that points to how it wants to address the travel needs of more kinds of customers. It has bought Accomable, a startup based out of London that focuses on travel listings that are disabled-friendly. Along with the announcement Airbnb is refreshing its own accessibility features as the first stage in how it hopes to develop them.

As part of the acquisition, Accomable will be winding down its business, co-founder and CEO Srin Madipalli said in an interview this week here in London, as the startup’s team begins work on building out both more specific features for the Airbnb platform, and a community of hosts who can accommodate disabled visitors — and in turn, to attract more of those looking to book disabled-friendly travel.

This will start with accommodation for those in wheelchairs first, he said, with an invitation being extended to Accomable’s existing hosts to list on Airbnb as part of the transition. Accomable had amassed listings for 1,100 properties in 60 countries with details about step-free access, other accessibility adaptations and with photos to show it all to would-be visitors.

Over time, the idea will be to create communities for travellers with other accessibility needs, and potentially move into areas that are aligned with Airbnb’s own expansion into Experiences once you get to your destination, which is another important area of travel where those needing special accessibility have been underserved.

“It’s something that has frustrated me from the start, that we weren’t able to do everything for everyone,” Madipalli said. “One of the challenges in an early startup is that you have constrained resources, but within Airbnb we can diversify.”

And hopefully grow: he also added that one of Accomable’s biggest issues up to now has been that demand for places has far exceeded the supply of available listings.

Airbnb — which has booked accommodation for 260 million guests and currently features over four million listings — is coupling the news with some accessibility announcements of its own. While the company has offered the ability to search for whether a property is wheelchair accessible, the company now acknowledges that this wasn’t cutting it.

“Guests weren’t getting the information they needed to find the right homes, nor the confidence that the home they selected would actually be accessible for them,” Airbnb notes in a blog post. Now, the company is updating and enhancing this with more detail, including whether there is step-free entry to rooms, and if entryways are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair. These search features are now live on the web version of Airbnb and will soon get added to its iOS and Android apps.

Financial terms of the Accomable acquisition are not being disclosed, after the startup raised less than $500,000, mostly from angel investors. For now, Madipalli will be the only one who is relocating to San Francisco, with the rest of the small team continuing to work out of London.

Accomable was founded in 2015 by Madipalli and Martyn Sibley, who together previously had co-founded a magazine and online community called Disability Horizons. The two friends are avid travellers but found that it was a lot of work to organise trips: both have Spinal Musular Atrophy and use wheelchairs.

In the very crowded market of online resources out there for tourists of other stripes, they saw a gap: planning accommodation, travel and activities around accessibility needs should be as straightforward as planning for any other need, they thought. And thus Accomable was born.

“The original idea we had was to solve a problem that Martyn and I specifically had,” Madipalli recalled. “We said to ourselves, ‘we can fix this problem with tech.’”

Continue onto Tech Crunch to read the complete article.

Toyota​ ​Mobility​ ​Foundation launches $4M prize for mobility tech targeting lower-limb paralysis



Toyota​ ​Mobility​ ​Foundation,​ a charity set up by Toyota in 2014 to help bring about “a truly mobile society,” has launched a $4 million competition to encourage the development of new smart mobility technology to support the lives of people with lower-limb paralysis.

Dubbed the ‘Mobility​ ​Unlimited​ ​Challenge​’, the competition — which has several rounds and prizes, leading up to the winner being unveiled in Tokyo in 2020 — is being run in partnership with the U.K.’s Nesta, and is open to teams around the world, including, of course, startups.

Specifically, Toyota​ ​Mobility​ ​Foundation and Nesta are on the look out for teams working on the creation of what it calls “personal mobility devices incorporating intelligent systems”. Whilst not limited to the following tech categories, this could include anything from exoskeletons,​ ​​artificial intelligence​ ​and​ ​machine​ ​learning,​ cloud​ ​computing​ ​to​ ​batteries.

However, although the Mobility​ ​Unlimited​ ​Challenge website contains a list of product ideasthat would quality for entry to the competition, Toyota​ ​Mobility​ ​Foundation are keen not to point too much in any one direction or to presume it knows what mobility problems people with lower-limb paralysis face.

Instead, I’m told that “co-creation” is very much the mantra here and that there will be a crowdsourcing component to solicit the kind of things that innovators should focus on, which will in turn help determine which entries should be rewarded.

In addition, entrants will be expected to demonstrate how co-creation with people with lower-limb paralysis who are representative of the tech’s eventual users has shaped its creation and development.

Toyota​ ​Mobility​ ​Foundation are also stressing that the competition hopes to attract teams — startups, companies, academics etc. — who aren’t necessarily already working in assistive technology, although these are welcome too. The thinking here is to make the Mobility​ ​Unlimited​ ​Challenge as deep and wide as possible and not limit where new ideas and new approaches come from.

The Mobility Unlimited Challenge Prize is supported by a number of ambassadors from around the world, all of whom have experience of living with lower-limb paralysis. Global​ ​ambassadors​ ​include​: August​ ​de​ ​los Reyes​, Head of Design at Pinterest); Yinka​ ​Shonibare​ ​MBE​, Turner-Prize nominated British/Nigerian artist; Sandra​ ​Khumalo​, South African Paralympic rower; Indian athlete and campaigner Preethi​ ​Srinivasan​; Sophie​ ​Morgan (pictured)​, British TV presenter, U.S. paralympian Tatyana​ ​McFadden​, and Rory​ ​A​ ​Cooper​, director of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories at the University of Pittsburgh.

Here’s a breakdown of the prize pot itself, which is more akin to a series of grants at various stages of the competition:

  • Discovery Awards – 10 awards of $50,000 (combined total: $500,000)
    Means-tested grants to support small, early stage innovators to enter the Challenge.
  • Finalist Grants – five awards of $500,000 (combined total: $2,500,000)Grants given to 5 finalists to spend during the Finalist Stage to develop their prototype
    device. Finalists will be selected from the eligible entries on the basis of their ability to
    meet the eligibility criteria requirements and their potential against the judging criteria.
  • Winner’s Award – one award of $1m (combined total: $1,000,000)
    Grant awarded to the finalist whose prototype device best meets the challenge statement, demonstrating how it meets the judging criteria.

Continue onto TechCrunch to read the complete article.

Smartwatch for the visually impaired displays information in braille


South Korean company Dot has developed a smartwatch that only displays information in braille, and is calling it a world first.

Intended to help visually impaired people lead independent and fulfilling lives, the Dot Watch is a streamlined smart device that offers information without hassle.

The minimalist design features a large circular face with a moving keyboard that relays braille text in real time.

While its main function is to tell the time and date, the watch can be connected to a smartphone application called the Dot Watch App, to receive information such as road navigation, weather notifications, calls and text messages, as well as social media alerts.

Made from silver aluminium, the watch utilises four electro-magnetic actuators that seamlessly relay information through textural dots. These automatically adopt the formations of braille numbers and symbols.

The watch can be paired with straps in different colours and materials for personalisation.

Dot claims that, while other braille displays read one line at a time, the display on the Dot Watch is an active one. It is designed to “pass by the user’s fingertips as if it were on a moving belt”, said Alex Lee, Dot’s sales and marketing director.

The technology is touch-sensitive, meaning that the second a user takes their finger off the final dot in a sentence, the braille formation changes to the next. The user is able to flip between messages by tapping the face of the watch or manually by using the side buttons and dial.

Continue onto Dezeen to read the complete article.

UMBC robotics student invents help for those with disabilities like hers


Kavita Krishnaswamy had labored through a decade of coursework in math and computer sciences to achieve a perfect 4.0 grade-point average. The University of Maryland, Baltimore County graduate student had invented robotic devices that are discussed around the world. She’d spent three years narrowing the focus of her doctoral dissertation.

But when the day arrived to defend her dissertation proposal before the panel of senior academics who would allow her to proceed, she never showed up.

She sent her robot.

Krishnaswamy lives with spinal muscular atrophy, a rare genetic disorder in which a breakdown of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord prevents the brain from sending the messages that direct muscular movement. She defended her proposal the way she participates in every class and lecture — through the Beam, a rolling, two-way-telecasting robot that she operates from 16 miles away.

Paralyzed from the neck down but for a few muscles in her right hand, the 35-year-old Columbia woman needs round-the-clock care and rarely leaves her home. But she spends her days and nights designing devices that, like the robot she uses to visit UMBC and points beyond, help those living with severe disabilities to attain greater independence.

Already a recipient of Ford and National Science Foundation fellowships, she has now earned more funding for her research from two more awards: the Microsoft Fellowship and the Google Lime Scholarship.

Krishnaswamy designs robotic devices to allow severely disabled people to move their arms and legs simply by moving a computer trackball, speaking or changing their facial expressions. She is pursuing a doctorate in computer science.

“I’m always asking how technology can help a person who has a disability become more independent,” she says. “We need to keep creating more and better technology so that society as a whole can be more independent.”

Krishnaswamy, who is due to earn her doctorate next year, is working with one eye on the clock. Her illness is progressive. It could rob her of her remaining mobility — and her ability to breathe — with little warning.

Changing the world is a lot to ask of anyone, let alone a person who needs a machine to connect with it, and has no idea whether her time on Earth is numbered in decades, years or weeks.

Those who know Krishnaswamy say if anyone can invent a way, she can.

Continue onto the Baltimore Sun to read the complete article.

Google Maps crowdsources info for wheelchair-accessible places


Now you can be sure that hot new restaurant can accommodate you.

It’s important to know whether a restaurant or other building is accessible if you use a wheelchair. While Google already added this information to places in its Maps app a while ago, the company has just announced that it will be crowdsourcing a larger set of accessibility options to help those with wheelchairs know if places are accessible or not. Google claims it has added this valuable information to almost seven million places around the world.

According to a Google blog post, you’ll now be able to add even more accessibility details to places from Google Maps for Android. You simply open the main menu, tap “Your contributions,” then “Uncover missing info.” Sort by “Accessibility” to find places missing these details and then fill it in. We were unable to see these options in our own testing, so it’s possible the feature may roll out to users over time. Once people have added in this information, though, you’ll be able to see whether a place has wheelchair-accessible entrances, elevators, seating and parking using the desktop or mobile versions of Maps, as well as within Google Search on mobile. Google told Engadget that it has no information to share on an iOS or web-based way to add accessibility information, but reiterated that all users can see it via Maps and Search.

Continue onto Engadget to read more about this new feature.