Intelligent Machines

Forward: Prototype

Taking blood pressure from the inside, and more

Heart Check
A new type of cardiac implant that measures blood pressure from inside the heart could help doctors better manage patients with heart failure, reducing the risk of hospitalization and even helping to prevent the condition from worsening. Developed by Minneapolis-based Medtronic, the device is implanted under the patient’s skin. From there, sensors on the ends of conducting leads are fed into the heart’s right ventricle, where they continuously track diastolic and systolic pressure, heart rate, body temperature, and level of patient activity. At least once a week, the patient downloads these data to an Internet-connected device that sends them on to his or her doctors. The information helps cardiologists pick the best therapies for each patient and adjust them as necessary – something that is often a hit-or-miss affair otherwise, says cardiologist Mark Aaron of Saint Thomas Heart Institute in Nashville, TN, one of the 28 medical centers that took part in a recent trial of the device. The results of the trial are due to be published later this summer and show that hospitalization could be reduced by up to 41 percent for patients with moderate heart failure.

Pong Redux
Cell-phone games usually rely on keystrokes to control the action, but Finnish researchers have developed a program called SymBall that could turn the whole phone into the controller. The software analyzes in real time images captured by a camera phone; from that information, it works out how the phone is being moved and the game responds accordingly. The demonstration application, which works on phones running the Symbian 60 operating system, is virtual Ping-Pong. The player wields the phone like a paddle to hit a virtual ball displayed on the phone’s screen. Two users can play each other if their phones are connected wirelessly via Bluetooth, to the amusement of onlookers who can’t see the ball, table, paddles, or net. Charles Woodward heads the multimedia team at VTT, Finland’s national technology research center, that developed the technology. Woodward says the patented interaction method has attracted the interest of a game firm, and a more accurate version is in development.

Seeing-Aisle Cart
Guide dogs may be great at navigating sidewalks, but they’re not very good at grocery shopping, so Utah State University computer scientist Vladimir Kulyukin is developing a robotic-guide grocery cart for the visually impaired. Enter a product name into the handle’s keypad, and the motorized robot navigates to the corresponding item by reading a series of radio frequency identification tags distributed throughout the store. A laser scans for roadblocks along the way to the appropriate section, where voice instructions indicate which shelf to reach for. The current prototype seeks out only a few items listed on a paper Braille menu posted next to the keypad. However, Kulyukin says future versions of the cart will have dynamic Braille interfaces and scanners to identify brand items by bar code. He’s in negotiations to begin testing the technology in a large chain store.

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