Tech Explorer

Getting a much closer look

John Intini,Berton Woodward September 10 2001
Tech Explorer

Getting a much closer look

John Intini,Berton Woodward September 10 2001

Getting a much closer look

Tech Explorer

It may not put seeing-eye dogs out of business, but Mississauga, Ont.-based Betacom Corp. has introduced the VisAble Video Telescope—a small handheld device that helps those with poor vision to see better. Equipped with a zoom lens, wide viewing field and high magnification, the $3,000 video apparatus allows users who suffer from low vision—about 17 million people in North America—to walk safely across the street, recognize faces and carry out daily tasks that would normally be impossible.

John Intini and Berton Woodward

Betacom, which specializes in electronic devices for the blind, has worked on the telescope for five years with scientists at the University of Waterloo in Ontario and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The user need only point the device at an object they wish to see and adjust the contrast controls. The device features autofocus and freeze-frame. “It’s made so a technophobic 70-year-old, who can’t turn on a computer, will be able to use it without any problems,” says Brian McCarthy, Betacom’s chief executive officer.

The 250-g device is considered a vast improvement on LVES, a one-kilogram helmet-like prototype developed five years ago at Johns Hopkins (and pronounced Elvis). “LVES had a tremendous field of view, very poor resolution and limited range of magnification and cost about $7,000,” says Graham Strong, the head of Betacom’s research team and director of the school of optometry at Waterloo. “Our telescope is more flexible since it’s not worn on the head.”

COOL SITE

Time out of mind

Madge, what time is it in Ulaanbaatar, and how do I dial it? Say what? Well, you can call your aunt in Mongolia, secure in the knowledge you are not waking anyone up in her yurt, with help from www.timeanddate.com. The Norwegian-based site provides the time for every zone, plus international dialling codes, public holidays, and seemingly endless ways of sorting, calculating elapsed days, setting a good time for an international conference call and more. Use code 976 for Mongolia.

McCarthy is confident the device, which cost his company $10 million to create, will sell at a rate of about 1,000 units per month. “There is a huge market out there,” he says. “Some of the people who have used the telescope in tests are seeing their husbands and wives or grandchildren for the first time in 15 years. There have been a lot of tears.” Since its European launch in July, 300 units have been sold overseas. The Canadian National Institute for the Blind will make the device available this month.

Wee TV

Little kids have two problems when it comes to TV remote controls. One, they’re often complicated, and the kids can’t read the function labels. And two—more a problem for parents—a standard remote lets you watch any channel, appropriate or not. Enter the Weemote 2, a cute $44.95 device that can be programmed to show only the kids’ channels. The remote has colourful buttons for volume, five direct channels and a channel selector that can handle a total of 10. An exhaustive but clear manual includes instructions for cable and satellite boxes. The Canadian distributor, based in Moonbeam, Ont., can be found at www.weemote.ca.