Thursday, March 3, 2011

TED 2011 Miracles

We TEDsters are always talking about how we feel inspired and uplifted at TED.  This conference has had many such moments for me.  But sometimes, TED goes beyond the marvellous to the miraculous.  Today, we saw the paralyzed walk, and the blind drive cars.  In our TEDx in the fall, we were introduced to deaf people hearing music.  Has TED reached a totally new level?

My friend Dennis Hong rocked the audience with his description of designing a car that blind people could drive.  Not a self-driving car that blind people could ride in - a car they could actively control.    There were sensors everywhere in the car - from the gloves the driver wore, to the seat they were sitting on, GPS, cameras.  There was powerful computing to process all this information and figure out the safest way to proceed.  The car was unveiled at Daytona, when a blind person drove the car around the track, avoiding various obstacles along the way.  He had tears in his eyes after the drive.  How liberating!

Eythor Bendor showed us 'exoskeletons', robotic appurtenances to attach non-invasively to the outside of bodies, to give people extra strength, speed and balance.  One application was to allow soldiers to carry 200-pound packs instead of 100-pound packs and yet avoid the chronic back pain that plagues soldiers.  Okay, so I didn't get that uplifted by that application.  Then Amanda walked on stage, with the aid of crutches, grinning from ear to ear.  She had been living in a wheelchair for 20 years after being paralyzed from the pelvis down.  She couldn't contain her joy at being able to walk!  That felt uplifting.

And of course our own Frank Russo at TEDxIBYork explained his EmotiChair which allows deaf people to hear music.  Where Dennis used vibration in the car seat to indicate speed to the blind driver, Frank was using similar vibration to convey music pitch and frequency.  I recently saw a fabulous documentary on neuroplasticity, where the brain can reprogram itself to compensate for parts that have been damaged or lost.  These researchers are providing cross-sensory stimuli even if your brain hasn't reprogrammed itself.

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