From: John J. Deneen (JJDeneen@ricochet.net)
Date: Mon Nov 06 2000 - 15:14:30 PST

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    Talking Lights (i.e, Indoors Information-In-Place(s)) & Reach Out and
    Virtually Touch Someone

    1) FINALISTS: R&D 100 awards and Discover Awards

    2) Assistive Communication Systems for Disabled Individuals using
    Visible Lighting

    FINALIST: Look What's Talking Now
    Innovator: Steven Leeb, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    Innovation: Talking Lights

    A visually impaired man searching for a bathroom walks tentatively
    through an airport in a strange city. As he steps under a set of
    fluorescent lights, a badge pinned to his lapel delivers a voice
    message: "The men's room is on your right." An MIT team headed by
    electrical engineer Steven Leeb, 34, has transformed ordinary
    fluorescent lights into global positioning satellites for the indoors.
    Fluorescent bulbs already work by emitting light, and with a $20
    retrofit they can be altered so that the light transmits messages to a
    decoder. "Ever see Star Trek?" says Leeb. "They tap a badge and get a
    message? Same idea." Talking Lights may one day guide people around
    airports, shopping malls, hospitals, senior centers, anywhere they're
    likely to get lost. Since information is carried by light, there are no
    wires to install, and the bulbs don't consume any extra energy as they
    do their work. "In that sense it costs nothing," says Leeb. "So why not
    do it? You're already paying for it."

    FINALIST: Reach Out and Virtually Touch Someone
    Innovator: Ralph Hollis, Carnegie Mellon University
    Innovation: Magnetic levitation haptic interface

    "Boot up your computer, and the screen welcomes you to a universe of
    sight and sound - but nothing you can feel with your hands. That's about
    to change thanks to a team of Carnegie Mellon researchers led by
    physicist Ralph Hollis and his colleague Peter Berkelman. They've
    invented a haptic interface - in plain language, a joystick, or handle,
    that gives the user a sense of touch. The joystick levitates
    magnetically in a large, enclosed aluminum bowl. Try sliding a peg into
    a virtual hole, and you'll encounter resistance until you get a snug
    fit. Drag an object over simulated sandpaper, and you feel the grit.
    Someday engineers will be able to experience the friction and fit of a
    part they've just designed, and student doctors will be able to "handle"
    tissue during virtual surgery. As Hollis sees it, this brings to
    computing an element long missing but truly essential. "Most people
    can't understand it when we describe it to them," he says. "But if they
    sit down and operate it, they say, 'Oh, now I get it!'"

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