Some inventions are creations of convenience, like the Snap-a-Loop media device holder. Some are fun, like BrickStix. Some are useful in very specific ways, like SnapIt Screw eyeglass repair and the E-sort potato sorter. And some have enormous social potential, like adjustable focus eyeglasses.
The Pacifier Activated Lullaby, or PAL, is a niche invention that falls into that last category, in a marvelous and touching way. Developed by music professor Jayne Standley at Florida State University to help premature babies learn the proper muscle movements to be able to suck and feed.
According to the PAL page at Florida State University,”More than 500,000 premature babies are born in the United States every year, each requiring significant medical treatment to ensure their survival and minimize life-long health challenges.”
Officially, the “Pacifier Activated Lullaby (PAL®) is an FDA-approved, patented system that utilizes music reinforcement therapy to stimulate non-nutritive sucking and the breathe-suck-swallow reflex in pre-term infants.” And results are already producing shorter-term hospital stays with a commensurate reduction in hospitalization costs (on average saving $10,000 per infant) and a higher likelihood that premature babies will thrive once they leave the hospital.
IEEE-Spectrum gives some interesting technical details. “The pacifier is outfitted with proprietary piezo sensing technology that detects the baby’s sucking motion. Feedback algorithms determine when the motion is correct, and a signal is sent via wire to a speaker that plays a soothing song when the baby gets the breathe-suck-swallow reflex right. The system can be calibrated to each baby’s needs.”
Check PAL out at http://www.research.fsu.edu/pal/about.html
A recent news piece about the availability of “world’s first and only electronically-focusing prescription eyewear ” debuting in Tampa Bay brings to the forefront vision technology with the potential to change vision care in a dramatic way, and not just for people who can afford the $1K plus emPower eyewear.
The idea of adjustable focus eyeglasses has been around since Ben Franklin invented the biofocal. The emPower version uses liquid crystals in the lenses to allow a wearer to turn the “close up” bifocal portion of the lenses on or off as needed. With the necessary power charger, the eyeglasses run over $1200, out of reach for most folks. But other efforts are underway to create far more affordable versions.
As Learning is for Everyone readies for our 2nd TEDxYouth@TampaBay event this coming Saturday, there’s probably no more apropos an example of the potential of this new(ish) technology than the great 2009 TED Talk, by Josh Silver of a mechanical version that he hopes to distribute to a billion people in need by 2020. Silver is working to get his already low cost version – less than $20 a pair – down to a dollar a pair!
He began commercially marketing adjustable eyeglasses in the US through his company, TruFocals, for under $900. But he continues to work on his low cost, version through his foundation, the Centre for Vision in the Developing World.
(Whoops! We got our facts wrong. Our apologies to Superfocus – here’s the correct info, with appreciation to Superfocus for their understanding!)
Adjustable focus glasses for presbyopia (aging eyes), called Superfocus, first became commercially available in the US in 2009. Superfocus glasses, developed by Chief Technologist Dr. Stephen Kurtin, mimic the natural focusing action of the youthful human eye. They allow the user to instantly change the focus of their lens to see objects at any length via a slider on the bridge. Unlike bifocals, trifocals or progressive lenses, the region of sharp focus is not limited to a small zone, but instead spans a user’s entire field of vision. You can read more about the science behind these glasses in this NY Times article.