- The Washington Times - Monday, August 10, 2009

Tool may help Web creators avoid causing seizures

MILWAUKEE | Wisconsin researchers have released a free software tool that could help Web surfers susceptible to certain seizures.

An estimated one in 4,000 people has photosensitive epilepsy and could suffer a seizure when exposed to bright colors and rapidly flashing images. The condition gained prominence in 1997 when more than 800 Japanese children were hospitalized after viewing a cartoon. Since then, television directors, video-game makers and others have tested their content to make sure it doesn’t reach seizure-inducing thresholds.

Web developers, though, didn’t have simple ways to run such tests. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison set out to change that.

“On the Web, you really never know what’s going to pop up on the screen until it does, and one second later you could be having a seizure,” said Gregg Vanderheiden, the center’s director.

Web developers can use the Photosensitive Epilepsy Analysis Tool, or PEAT, to determine how fast an image blinks, for example, and let developers know whether it poses a seizure risk.

Content that doesn’t pass the test isn’t always risky. Researchers say flashy content that doesn’t fill at least 10 percent of a screen isn’t a danger.

Robert Fisher, director of the Stanford Epilepsy Center in Palo Alto, Calif., said he knew of “dozens of clips” on YouTube that can provoke seizures. He advises viewers with epilepsy to avoid any sites where content blinks and flashes and to be ready to avert their eyes if necessary.

Students develop cane with e-tags to guide blind

DETROIT | A cane equipped with the technology that retailers use to tag merchandise could help blind people avoid obstacles.

An engineering professor an five students at Central Michigan University have created a “Smart Cane” to read electronic navigational tags installed between buildings to aid the blind in reaching their destinations more easily.

The Smart Cane contains an ultrasonic sensor that is paired with a miniature navigational system inside a messenger-style bag worn across the shoulder.

For the test, the students installed identification tags between two buildings on the campus in Mount Pleasant, Mich. A speaker located on the bag strap gave audio alerts when the system detected an obstacle and told the user which direction to move.

Students wearing glasses that simulate visual impairment tested the cane.

The students also created a vibrating glove to assist those who are both visually and hearing-impaired.

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