Author Archives: Katarzyna Zalewska

Tech solutions helping people with disabilities

One of my previous posts was about how technology is killing education. I might be sceptical about it sometimes, but as a person who barely remembers life before computers and smartphones, I definitely see the bright side of technology too.

To me, the best usage of technology or gadgets is not making our lives more interesting or even easier, but helping people in need. Below I’ll present some of the best (in my humble opinion) solutions for disabled people.

  • Liftware

I came across a movie about Liftware during one of many hours spent on scrolling my Facebook feed. I instantly fell in love with the solution, it’s brilliant and really helpful. It’s a handle to which you can attach utensils like fork or spoon. It’s designed for people with Parkinson or other diseases causing hand tremors. The main idea behind is counteracting unwanted movements so that the person can eat with ease and dignity. Take a look at the video below to understand how brilliant this is:

  • Talkitt

Another, truly amazing solution is Talkitt. It’s a software that helps people with speech and language disorders communicate with others. It can be run on any computer, smartphone or tablet and works for all languages! It first learns pattern speechs and then identifies what the person is saying and translates it so that others can understand.

Speech is one of the most important parts of being a human. It’s said that speech and thought are two things that make us distinct from animals. That’s why the need of being understood is huge and Talkitt helps people finally get that.

  • UNI

Speaking of helping people communicate, there are more oustanding solutions. UNI helps deaf and speech-impaired people communicate with others. It detects sign language (thanks to the camera installed in the device) and converts it to text. Thanks to that other people can understand a meaning of given signs. The second functionality is converting speech into signs. Thanks to that, UNI provides two-way communication.

It’s not only an amazing solution, but also inspiring story, as the whole company is deaf. Watch to see how it works:

  • Braille Edge 40 & Lechal shoes

The last two solutions are designed for visually impaired people. The first one, Braille Edge 40, is a device helping blind people control their smartphones or computers. It’s connected by Bluetooth or USB port and it converts text into Braille. Producer describes it as follows: ‘Braille EDGE 40 contains 2 four-way navigation keys and 8 function keys (Escape, Tab, Control, Alt, Shift, Insert, Windows and Applications) combining the convenience of entering text in Braille with the intuitive functionality of a PC keyboard.’ Finally blind people are not technologically-excluded!

Another deivce worth mentioning are Lechal shoes. These are GPS-enabled sneakes that ‘navigate’ a blind person by vibrating (to give a correct direction). The shoes can be connected via Bluetooth and are compatible with most of iOS and Android versions. They can be synced with Google apps and navigate you to any given location. To me, being blind in a city must be terrifying. Leachal shoes seem to make the world a little less scary.

I truly admire technology that makes people’s lifes better. Disabilities often lead to exclusion, both technological and social. Seeing people invent such devices and softwares gives a lot of hope that developing technology won’t destroy us, but will really help.

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Artificial Intelligence will help you learn. And relax.

Artificial Intelligence is a growing trend in technology. Most of us are aware of the fact that its importance is steadily increasing. Some people say AI is, in fact, the most important topic for our future. 

Looks like we should start getting used to it and finding a place for AI in our lives. Of course, it is widely used in business already, Accenture calls AI ‘fuel for growth’.  However, what I wanted to talk about is a solution that can help you learn, relax or fight insomnia thanks to Artificial Intelligence.

Brain.fm is a service offering AI-composed music that will help you trigger specific cognitive states. This includes deep focus, relaxation, and sleep. Music is obviously powerful and we know that. That’s a rule all movie soundtracks are based on. But Brain.fm goes even further. The product has a lot of scientific research behind. Starting with how neuronal oscillations control cognitive processes to showing how music entrains neuronal oscillations.

There are plenty of researchers from various universities behind Brain.fm. There are even experiments ran to measure effects of the AI-composed music on cognition. Measures included Reaction Time (RT), Go-No Go (GNG), Visual Pattern Recognition (VPR) and EEG. Detailed results are presented here, but well, you probably guessed them already ;).

What’s interesting, even athletes use Brain.fm. It lets them focus and then relax and meditate. For athletes, especially those from Olympic teams, the pressure is huge. Psychological aspects of sports are as important as physical ones. It’s not something new that during finals of the most important championships, mind is equally important as body and only people who have nerves of steel will win. Robby Smith is the US Olympic wrestling team captain and he was using Brain.fm during Rio preparations. This is a great example of balanced preparations and another use of AI.

The solution sounds brilliant, doesn’t it? What’s worrisome a little is the legal info. If the AI-composed music so beneficial to us, why do have to be so careful about it? If it might be dangerous to epileptics, pregnant women, people wearing a pacemaker of ones who drank alcohol and took medications, then how can we be sure it’s safe to the rest of us? Isn’t it just too misterious, with no explanation following the legal info?

 

brain.fm

Source: Brain.fm

For sure, the solution is brilliant and can help many people who can’t focus or sleep. Knowing the reality of today’s and huge problems people have with focus, seems like the demand will be only growing. But can we really trust Brain.fm? I’m sure we’ll find out about it soon!

 

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Is technology killing education?

We all believe or want to believe that technology development is something good. It shows we’re moving forward, we’re getting better, we’re pushing the limits. But does it always make sense? Do we always need to introduce more gadgets and software to all fields? Is it always justified with thorough thinking and planning?

I doubt that.

I want to raise a taboo subject of technology in education (and in classrooms in general). More and more schools are facing this problem, including Kozminski University.

smartphones in the classrom

Source: www.bostonglobe.com

The first thing you notice when you enter the classroom is that literally 90% of students do not pay attention to the teacher, but do pay attention to their smartphones, tablets and laptops. What is the point of going to a class if all you do is scrolling Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat? And why do teachers never react?

It is said that problems with attention can be blamed on technology. You can argue and say we’re a generation of multitasking, but guess what? Researches show multitasking is actually impossible and what you do is more of a “task-switching”.

My point is not criticizing students for not paying attention in a class. I’m guilty myself! Moreover, being addicted to social media is not something my generation chose. It’s rather something we inherited from previous generations and are forced to live in.

 

no-powerpoing

Source: www.someecards.com

Let’s look at the problem from a different perspective. Why would someone pay attention to the full-of-text PowerPoint slides that he knows he’ll receive before the exam? Slides that can be read at home in 1 hour? Of course, there are teachers who try to make their classes more interesting and engaging, but even in spite of those efforts, PowerPoint in killing education. There’s no point in making notes when they’re already made and sent to you. Not to mention taking notes with a pen and paper, which happens to be the best way to learn.

Another taboo is cheating. We’re in Poland where cheating is, unfortunately, socially accepted. Teachers pretend they don’t see that, but smartphones and access to the Internet make cheating easier than ever before. With practically no reaction and no penalties, the value of your diploma is getting low. It is also said that with easy access to academic information, any academic writing is no longer original. Is that what we wanted?

Of course, there are amazing companies that help people learn (like Brainly, Skillshare, Khan Academy, Lynda, Codeacademy and many many others), knowledge is now more accessible than ever before. But is school really teaching us how to learn? Or just how to pass the exams?

Some people say technology is making us stupid and it’s hard not to agree with that. Others will list trends that are changing education for better and you can’t argue with that either. Technology is getting better every day and we probably should be excited about it, but are we actually ready for it? Maybe it’s time to stop for a moment and think not only about how we can implement technology at schools, but also how we can reduce its negative influence. After all, education is our future.

 

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Back in time

Have you ever heard of Neo-Luddism? Or have you ever heard the term “Technophobia”? There are people in the world who oppose to technology or are afraid of it. Actually, how can you not be afraid of technology after watching Black Mirror? 😉

These two terms mentioned above refer to extreme phenomena. However, there is a trend in technology that aims at traveling back in time. Well, not literally. There are apps that will make people, who were born before widely accessible computers, feel pretty nostalgic. By that I don’t mean 1950s, but let’s bring 90s back!

  1. VHS Camcorder

Do you remember the thing called VHS? Kind of old-school, I know. But don’t you sometimes miss it? Those white number in the bottom-left corner of the video that instantly tell you when it was recorded and that it’s a tape from your 3rd, not 4th birthday? Now you can have these back on the videos recorded with your smartphone. How cool is that! For $3 you can download it here.

VHS camcorder

Source: itunes.apple.com

 

  1. Games

There are some classics you’ll never forget. Games of our childhood, which we really spent hours playing. They were not complicated and graphics were… well, were enough back then! Of course, now with the ocean of games and consoles like Xbox or PlayStation, with the growing market of Virtual Reality in the gaming industry it’s easy to find top quality entertainment. But don’t you sometimes miss good old Pac-Man, Snake, or Tamagotchi? I do! If you want to travel back in time when standing in a line or in the bus, just download old-school versions of those games.

  1. Photography

Now let me show you one of my favorites! Meet Yoso, a new Polish product that can change your smartphone into an analog camera. Nowadays we tend to take gigabytes of pictures every day. You’re at a concert? You take 300 pictures. You’re going out? 50 selfies. In a restaurant? #instafood. Vacation? 1000 pictures. Most of them are the same, few of them are good. And most probably you won’t go back to the majority of your pictures because it’s just too much! Yoso will make you actually think before taking a picture, you won’t see it instantly, but then they’ll send you a physical copy. Wouldn’t it be great to have 36 awesome pictures from vacation and simply live the moment for the other 9964?

  1. Conversations?!

It’s not an app, but still an exceptional idea. Last year MasterCard started a campaign in Warsaw restaurants called #PricelessTime. Its goal was to make people put their phones down and start having real conversations. That they did was installing special capsules in the restaurants. Based on the time people’s phones spent in the capsule, customers were given prizes.

The idea is brilliant and sad at the same time. Do we really need a prize to focus on the people we met with? I hope this campaign will inspire you to re-thinking the way you spend time with your friends. How about living real life even without special apps and capsules? 😉

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