Entries in Technology (11)


People with Autism Find Job Niche in Tech

Fuse(BROOKFIELD, Ill.) -- Phillip Griffin graduated high school with honors in 2009, but despite his good grades and interest in math and science, finding a job proved difficult.

That's because Griffin, 22, has autism spectrum disorder, a developmental disorder characterized as difficulties with social interaction and communication -- making job interviews a nightmare.

"I got a little frustrated," he told, adding that he's had part-time jobs that included working as a custodian for a local church near his home in Brookfield, Ill.

Although no two people with autism are exactly alike, many have trouble catching social cues, elaborating on answers to interview questions and making eye contact, said Peter Bell, executive vice president for programs and services at Autism Speaks.

"They're sometimes not well understood," said Bell, the father of a 20-year-old son who has autism. "If an interview candidate is not looking you in the eye, I might -- if I didn't know the person had autism -- say, 'Wow. This person is aloof' or 'They aren't necessarily interested in the job.'"

He said standard company interview practices focus on "soft skills," but the most important thing is the hard skill: Can the candidate actually do the job?

But Griffin proved that he could and last Thursday landed a job in information technology at AutonomyWorks, a technology company that employs only autistic people because it values their ability to spot patterns and their preference for repetitive tasks. He had to prove that he could build test websites during a two-week tryout.

And he "mastered" it, said managing director of AutonomyWorks Julie Calmes.

When asked what he enjoys about his new job, Griffin said, "Well, it involves computers. I love the step-by-step process. I like the office environment."

But AutonomyWorks isn't the only group seeking autistic employees to work in jobs in software testing, data entry and programming.

Since it's estimated that 1 percent of the world population is autistic, German software giant SAP announced this week that it aims to hire enough autistic people to make up 1 percent of its 65,000 work force.

"It really is a new step," Bell said. "As an autism dad, this makes me really excited and optimistic that corporate America is going to recognize the value of people with autism, and that more and more opportunities will become available."



Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


New High-Tech Bionic Arm Helps Wounded Warrior 

Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago(CHICAGO) -- Glen Lehman’s battles in Iraq came to an end when a grenade tore through the door of his Humvee, shredding his right arm. Lehman survived, thanks to his quick-thinking comrades and a helicopter evacuation to a nearby air base for emergency medical care. But a new battle was just beginning for the sergeant first class and father of two, who fought excruciating phantom limb pain where his arm used to be.
On top of the pain, Lehman struggled to control his prosthetic arm, which ended with a pincer in place of a hand. "It was hard to even get the prosthetic in the right position," he said, describing how the cumbersome limb turned simple tasks into impossible missions.

Suddenly, the soldier who once led his platoon was unable to make his sons' peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches.

That's when Lehman met Dr. Todd Kuiken, director of the Center for Bionic Medicine and Amputee Services at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Kuiken and his plastic surgeon colleague Dr. Gregory Dumanian had been busy co-developing a bionic limb technology known as targeted muscle reinnervation, or TMR for short.

With TMR, surgeons reroute the nerve stumps left over after an amputation to muscles in the chest and upper arm so they can control a prosthetic arm by simply imagining the movement.

Lehman was one of the first amputees to use groundbreaking pattern recognition technology to control his prosthetic arm. It works like speech recognition, according to its creator, neural engineer Levi Hargrove, and relies on a tiny computer the size of a quarter in the bionic arm.

"When we want to use our hands, we don't think, 'OK, I'm going to move my elbow, then my shoulder and then my hand.' No, we just think about it and it goes," Dumanian said. And achieving this level of intuitive control is where the science gets closer to science fiction.

"I just think of moving my phantom limb, and my prosthesis moves instead," Lehman said. "I would say it's at least 75 percent better and more intuitive."
As Lehman improved the control of his prosthetic, he noticed his phantom pain started to wane -- a finding his doctors plan to explore as a cure for the debilitating syndrome.

The cost of surgery and a standard prosthetic run upwards of $150,000 including rehabilitation, according to Dumanian. The bionic arm and pattern recognition technology would increase the cost, Dumanian said, but it might be more cost effective than hand transplantation

But people shouldn't expect miracles right away, cautions Kuiken.

"Patients need to know it takes about six months for the nerves to grow in," he said. "It's OK to wear a regular prosthesis in the meantime, so they're not left frustrated feeling like they're chasing their tail."

Lehman continues to work with scientists to help them improve the technology for wounded warriors coming home.

And how's that peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich coming along?

"I'm not sure how I'd compare to someone with two working arms -- but I'd be willing to race," Lehman said.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


iPad Owners Prefer Broken Nose over Shattered Screen?

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- A root canal is a painful experience, but according to many iPad owners, not as painful as breaking an iPad.  A new survey finds 32 percent of iPad owners say accidentally breaking their device would be more painful than having root canal.

Forty percent say accidentally breaking their iPad would be more painful than getting in a minor car accident.

Sixteen percent of respondents say breaking their Apple device would hurt more than breaking their nose, while ten percent say it would be more painful than getting fired from their job.

The Brainshark Inc. survey involved 1,320 iPad owners.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


New Technology Lets People Write With Their Eyes

JupiterImages/Comstock(NEW YORK) -- Patients without the ability to use their limbs may have a new way to communicate, thanks to researchers in France. This offers hope to sufferers of strokes, spinal injuries, or degenerative diseases such as ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, who may be left without the ability to type, pick up a pen, or even speak.

The researchers developed a system that allows users to write in cursive on a video monitor using only their eyes. Dr. Jean Lorenceau of the Universite Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris has developed a method for translating eye movements into writing on a screen, and by doing so has simultaneously advanced possibilities for patients and solved a tricky puzzle posed by biology. The results are in today's issue of the journal Current Biology.

Lorenceau's device overcomes a difficult physiological problem called saccadic eye movements. If you try to move your gaze smoothly across a stationary object, you will will instead find your eyes "saccading," or jumping from one point to another. So-called smooth-pursuit eye movements are reserved by our bodies for following moving objects. This is normal, but presents problems for researchers trying to devise methods of eye writing, just as a constantly jerking hand would severely hamper someone trying to write with a pen.

Dr. Lorenceau's technique bamboozles the body's own circuitry by using a flickering screen. It tricks the brain into thinking the eyes are following a moving object. The device then uses known eye motion-detection technology to translate these movements into smooth cursive writing, fully controlled by the subject.

Other devices for communicating solely with the eyes do exist. They're less ambitious -- they let a user select choices from a menu in sequence rather than write -- but Lorenceau says they work well. However, he points out that users' ability to create something themselves is unique to his device.

"Maybe more important is the fact that cursive eye writing provides personal and creative means of expression," Lorenceau said. Furthermore, it allows people to achieve shades of meaning not available on a menu. "What if the figure you wish to draw is not in this repertoire," he said, "[such as] the drawing of a heart to indicate you love something?"

Lorenceau has just been selected by the French National Research Agency to partner with a physician caring for ALS patients in developing his device further, as well as a company to continue to develop the device and a programmer to develop software for cursive eye writing recognition.

But Lorenceau sees uses for his device beyond helping those unable to write on their own. "A training program could be helpful for children with oculomotor deficits or [even] athletes [or] artists and is therefore not necessarily exclusively to be used by patients unable to move their limbs," he said. "Although speculative, these ideas will be tested in the near future."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Gadgets to Help Keep You Motivated and in Shape

John Foxx/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- It used to be that picking a TV or a laptop was one of the hardest tech buying decisions you'd make -- and when it came time to pick up a less-common gadget, like one that could improve your health and fitness, there'd be one choice, at the most.

That, however, is not the case anymore. As we all strive to be fitter and as technology pervades our lives, a handful of digital fitness gadgets have emerged.

So which of the new crop of fitness gadgets is the best? ABC News technology editor Joanna Stern has been testing the FitBit Ultra, Nike+ FuelBand and Motorola MOTOACTV -- three of the top choices -- for the last couple of months. Below are Stern’s results:

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

FitBit Ultra ($99.95)
The FitBit was really the pioneer in the new category of fitness gadgets and, in many ways, still leads. The small plastic device clips on to your clothes (I wear mine on my pants or bra strap) and can easily be concealed. I like the fact that I can wear the FitBit to work and no one will notice it. But easy to conceal also means easy to misplace. In fact, I had the original FitBit and it found its way into the washing machine accidently. It never recovered. But this isn't about a dead FitBit. The FitBit is one of the most advanced trackers. It tracks steps, stairs climbed, calories and even sleep time and quality if you decide you want to sleep with it on. (I tested that for about one night; I found it very annoying to sleep with a gadget on.) You can see basic information on the FitBit's little LCD screen and control it with a small button, but when you sync it to your wireless network or plug it into your computer, it uploads all that data to your account. It's all very easy to set up and the site and software do a great job of presenting your fitness activity in clean charts and very attractive graphs. When you are logged in to your account, you can also set goals, input your weight (or do it automatically with FitBit's Aria Scale), and track your food. It provides a very full view of your health. I also like the little flower icon that appears on the LCD screen; leaves are added the more active you are during the day. It is actually very motivational. But where the FitBit doesn't compare as well to the others comes with its mobile features. FitBit offers an app, but it doesn't pair directly with the FitBit. Only when your FitBit is near its wireless dock will it send your info to the app or

Nike+ FuelBand ($149.00)
The Nike+ FuelBand, on the other hand, goes on your wrist. And it's one of the coolest-looking things you can put on your wrist. Coated in a rubber material, the FuelBand has a screen but it's made up of a series of colored LED lights. You control the display with a small button on it. And hidden in the bracelet's clasp is the USB port. The FuelBand does track calories and steps, but mostly tracks your "fuelpoints." Fuelpoints are based on your steps, but this is really Nike's motivation currency. You set how many fuelpoints you aim to hit in a day and it lets you know when you have reached that point. At the start of a new day, it zeros out the fuelpoints. While FitBit's flower is motivating, I became obsessed with getting fuelpoints everyday. I'd get up and walk more or take the stairs instead of the elevator. It is, by far, the most motivational out of the bunch. The band also has Bluetooth built in so you can pair it with your iPhone and the app will show you your points and steps on the fly -- no need to connect to the Internet or be near a docking station like the FitBit. (There is no Android app yet, though Nike has been promising one.) You can also plug the bracelet into your computer to charge it and upload the data. Nike's software and apps are full of eye candy; graphs are bright and easy to read. However, it's not perfect. The bracelet isn't ideal for business meetings or nice events, and I found it to be flaky, at times. After a few months of use the FuelBand stopped registering my steps. I had to reset it a few times to get it to start working again.

Motorola MOTOACTV ($249.00)
The Motorola MOTOACTV can be clipped to your clothes or you can wear it on your wrist with the optional $30 watch band. However, the ACTV is larger and chunkier than the rest. The device looks a lot like the iPod Nano with a full touchscreen, but it's actually thicker than Apple's little music player. If you can get over the size of the ACTV (which I really couldn't) it actually provides a lot more functionality than the others. It has all the same fitness tracking capabilities -- it tracks steps, how far you've run, etc. -- but it also can track elevation and your running route with its built-in GPS. There's also a heart rate monitor and it doubles as an MP3 player. Motorola even provides some nice-looking red earbuds in the box. The device is more for workouts than everyday fitness monitoring. But the standout feature of the ACTV is how it pairs with your phone. It only works with Android phones, not the iPhone, but download the ACTV app from the Google Play Store, pair the phone with the ACTV via Bluetooth, and you will be able to see your text messages or missed calls on your wrist. It's a smartwatch of sorts but, again, the real focus of the gadget really is on monitoring your activity. Within the app, you can also view your steps, miles run, etc. And because it has a touchscreen, it is easier to navigate on the device. But, ultimately, that touchscreen is the device's downfall. Because it has a full 1.6-inch LCD touchscreen, it had to be charged every two days or so, while the others could last days without having to be recharged. It also costs more than the others at $250.

What to Buy?
The truth is that all of these devices are good choices for the person looking to keep track of their physical activity. They will all keep you motivated and give you a good assessment of your activity through charts and graphs. However, in the end I ended up sticking with the FitBit after the weeks of testing. I can go to meetings or even weddings with it on, and I have never had any issues with it not registering my movement. That said, the FuelBand is a great option for those that don't care much about concealing their fitness gadget. Hey, they might become as common as laptops or TVs soon.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Could a Virus Actually Power Your iPhone?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Viruses might eventually be able to power the very phone, computer or tablet you’re reading this article on. And we’re not talking about those digital viruses or infestations — trojans, worms, and whatnot.

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Berkeley Lab have found a way to generate power using human viruses. Yes, those viruses inside your body. With a harmless specially engineered M13 virus, the group has been able to power a small display. The viruses can convert mechanical force into electricity.

“In near future, we believe that we can develop personal electric generators. Basically, all of our daily activity related to mechanical movement (or vibration): walking, jogging, typing, etc.,” Seung-Wuk Lee, a faculty scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division, told ABC News. “For example, by installing our piezoelectric thin films on your shoes, we can convert our walking energy to electric energy. Therefore, with a phone in our pocket connected to our shoes, we can charge our phone.”

So how does it all work? The scientists tapped a finger on an electrode coated with the viruses and the viruses then converted the force of the tap into an electric charge. And that force is critical to the equation.

This is the first time electricity has been conducted by “harnessing the piezoelectric properties of biological material,” Berkeley Lab’s press release states. What that really means is that it is the first time electricity has been made by a combination of force and viruses.

But the scientists are picturing even broader uses. “In the future, because our M13 virus-based piezoelectric material is biocompatible, we can implant the virus-based piezoelectric power generator in our body and capture our heart perspiration as a electric power source of the biomedical devices or biosensors. Therefore, no more charging of your pacemakers, hearing aids, personal health monitoring sensors,” Lee explained.

However, this is still a ways out. According to Lee, the current power generation from the virus-based generator is not enough to power a phone yet.

“We are currently working on enhancing the power output of the virus-based piezoelectric generators,” Lee said. “Through our approaches, we believe that we can achieve power enhancement 100-1000 times and develop the personal power generator in near future.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


After 200 Years of Surgery: Cutting to Cure Has Come a Long Way

Keith Brofsky/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The 3.5-inch tumor in Cynthia Miller's throat threatened to choke her, leaving her no choice but to have it removed.

"I had no idea I was even sick," said Miller, 55, who lives in Maitland, Fla. "I woke up in the middle of the night coughing. … The next thing I knew they were booking emergency surgery."

Instead of radical surgery—which would involved cutting her face, pulling teeth and breaking her jaw—Miller had her tumor removed through her mouth by a miniature robotic arm guided by the surgeon.

"With the robot, there are no cuts anywhere. No breathing tube, no broken bones," said Dr. Bert O'Malley, who pioneered the procedure at the University of Pennsylvania's Head and Neck Cancer Center in Philadelphia. "We go in through the mouth with a high-magnification 3-D camera and very small instruments, like a surgeon's fingers but very tiny, and we're able to remove the tumor without the side effects of traditional surgery."

Side effects include spasms, difficulty with swallowing and speech, not to mention chronic pain.

"The more you disrupt and injure tissue, the greater the risk of dysfunction and chronic problems," said O'Malley.

Today's minimally invasive surgery is far different from the procedures of 200 years ago, when surgeons hacked through skin, muscle and bone briskly and brutally without anesthesia or antisepsis.

"Pain and the always-looming problem of infection restricted the extent of a surgeon's reach," Dr. Atul Gawande, a surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, wrote in a review published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine's 200th anniversary issue.

Even after the advent of anesthesia in 1846, surgeons continued to "choose slashing speed over precision," Gawande wrote, describing a 19th century leg amputation in which the surgeon accidentally cut an assistant's finger along with the patient's limb. "The patient and the assistant both died of sepsis, and a spectator reportedly died of shock, resulting in the only known procedure with a 300 percent mortality," he wrote.

Unlike today's surgeons dressed in sterile scrubs, masks, caps and booties, surgeons of yore wore black Prince Albert coats speckled with pus and dried blood from procedures past. It would take decades for them to recognize the importance of sterility.

Soon after, however, the arsenal of surgical procedures and their success rates quickly grew. From heart procedures to organ transplants to joint replacements, the "invasion of people's bodies for cure" was becoming the norm, Gawande wrote.

American surgeons perform more than 50 million procedures a year, according to the review, meaning the average American can expect to undergo seven operations during his or her lifetime. Miller, who's had four surgeries so far, said she's amazed at how far the field has come.

"I went in on a Friday morning and came home on the Monday," she said, recalling her surprisingly quick and painless recovery. "I'm thoroughly amazed. I'm in awe. Technology and man are coming together to enrich our world in ways that we could never have imagined."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Infants and iPads? It’s Not So Farfetched!

Tooga/The Image Bank(ELK GROVE VILLAGE, Ill.) -- Just as adults are increasingly grabbing for their digital media devices, so too are their children.

A new study has now taken a first-ever look at children’s use of new digital media devices. The study, by Common Sense Media, finds the devices are quickly becoming a part of a children’s world.

Researchers surveyed more than 1,300 parents of children up to age 8. They found that 40 percent of 2- to 4-year-olds and 52 percent of 5- to 8-year-olds have used smart phones, video iPods, iPads, or similar devices.

Even infants are not immune: ten percent of those under age 1 have handled one of these devices, the researchers found: the kids are playing games, watching videos, or using other apps.

On any given day, 11 percent of those up to age 8 are using one of these devices; those who do may spend as long as 43 minutes tapping away.

While this trend may be growing, the youngest media consumers still spend far more time in front of a television than they do on one of these mobile devices. Those up to age 8 spend an average of one hour and 40 minutes watching TV or DVDs on a typical day. And those under age 1 spent about 53 minutes, more than twice as much time as they spend being read to.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television for those under age 2. The group doesn’t have a position on this new media and its affect on children. Study authors say they’re hoping their data will start a discussion on whether this type of screen time is any better or worse for children than TV.

Kids are also mimicking their parents in another modern past time: media multi-tasking. Nearly a quarter of 5 to 8-year-olds use more than one media device most or some of the time.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Israelis Create Rodent With Robot Brain

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(TEL AVIV, Israel) -- In the technological journey toward artificial intelligence, Israeli researchers have made the next giant leap: the RoboRat.

Matti Mintz of Tel Aviv University in Israel and his fellow scientists have built a rodent-sized artificial cerebellum that when implanted onto the skull of a rat with brain damage, allows him to function normally again.

The cyborg cerebellum consists of a computer chip that is electrically wired into the rat’s brain with electrodes.  Since the cerebellum is normally responsible for coordinating movement, this chip was programmed to take in sensory information from the body, interpret it, and communicate messages back out to the brain stem and in turn, the rest of the body.

To test the computer chip brain, scientists conditioned a rat to blink whenever it heard a tone. When the researchers disabled the rat’s cerebellum, however, the rat could no longer coordinate this behavior.  Once the artificial cerebellum was hooked up, the rat went back to blinking at the sound of the beep.

“It’s proof of concept that we can record information from the brain, analyze it in a way similar to the biological network, and return it to the brain,” Mintz, who presented the work this month at the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence meeting in Cambridge, UK, told NewScientist.

Though scientists have successfully wired artificial limbs to the brain to restore function, the days of a full-on human cyborg brain implant are far off, researchers say.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Technology Making Your Nine-to-Five Work Schedule Obsolete?

Steve Mason/Photodisc(NEW YORK) -- You may love your computer and smartphone but they might be making you work harder.

Government statistics show worker productivity has increased 400 percent since 1950, possibly because technology makes you available ‘round-the-clock, and the boss is taking advantage of that.

A new survey by Wright Management finds two-thirds of employees have gotten emails from their bosses over the weekend. One-third say the boss expects a reply.

Experts say if you need to set limits, do it in a face-to-face meeting, not a text or email.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio