A breakthrough in assistive devices

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A breakthrough in assistive devices

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is an illness where motor neurones progressively degenerate. Patients in the later stages become completely paralyzed. Most ALS patients maintain mental alertness even as they are trapped in their own physical prison. The eye muscle is the last movement most patients retain. “Eye gaze” computer systems help people to communicate and connect to the world by allowing the user to have full access by simply moving their eyes around the screen. But not many people use them. First of all, they are expensive, costing about 10 million won ($9,041). Secondly, the system does not read retina movements accurately.

Samsung Electronics introduced a similar technology giving people with motor disabilities a way to navigate a computer using their eyes to control a mouse. The command system is highly accurate, costs about 50,000 won and can be easily fitted onto the user’s computer monitor. Samsung Electronics will donate the device to people with disabilities from low-income families and make the technology open-source so that other businesses can freely use it for their own applications. Assistive technology devices help people with disabilities and disorders to lead independent lives. Many multinational technology companies invest in developing assistive technology as a part of social contribution. Microsoft founder Bill Gates is famous for sponsoring assistive technology programs.

Korean companies have been lagging behind in social contributions based on their technological capabilities, even though they are active in donations and charity work. They should now turn their attention to applying their skills to enhance the lives of disabled people. Assistive technology is a growing market. It is estimated to generate more than 120 trillion won worldwide. American companies take up more than 40 percent of the market, followed by German and Swedish firms. In Asia, Japan and Taiwan develop assistive equipment like wheelchairs. It is a scientific and bioengineering market that has room to grow. With the rapidly aging population, assistive devices will be increasingly in demand. The government should consider passing a law to promote the manufacturing and use of assistive devices such as the American Assistive Technology Act of 1998. JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 26. Page 34

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