White House Honors Two Techies for Making Programming Cool

Bay Area residents Carlos Bueno and Kimberly Bryant are helping to prepare kids to use programming concepts in daily life and work.

Tech Titans Join Forces on Internet Surveillance

More than 60 technology firms and other groups are urging the federal government to let companies disclose Patriot Act data requests.

The Life of Jonas Salk, the Man Who Conquered Polio

In April 1955, the world rejoiced as researcher Jonas Salk debuted a successful vaccine against polio. Up to then, polio had killed thousands and left tens of thousands in varying degrees of paralysis. Physician and author Charlotte DeCroes Jacobs joins us to talk about her book, "Jonas Salk: A Life," which chronicles Salk's life from his childhood in a New York tenement through his work on groundbreaking vaccines and his fraught relationship with a scientific community that disdained him.

How UC Berkeley Physicist Ernest Lawrence Helped Launch the Era of 'Big Science'

In 1931, UC Berkeley scientist Ernest Lawrence invented the cyclotron, which transformed nuclear physics, earned him a Nobel Prize and paved the way for the devastating bombs that helped win World War II. We'll talk with LA Times reporter Michael Hiltzik about his new book "Big Science," which outlines Lawrence's contributions to the Manhattan Project and the rise of the military-industrial complex.

PBS NewsHour

Looking for a way to store data for millennia? Try DNA.

Swiss scientists have proven that DNA can be used to store information for up to 2,000 years, with the potential for
         storage up to a million years. Illustration by Philipp Stossel, FML, ETH Zurich

Swiss scientists came up with a technique to use DNA to store information for up to 2,000 years, with the potential for storage up to a million years. Illustration by Philipp Stossel, FML, ETH Zurich

Scientists have discovered a way of storing vast quantities of information for up to 2,000 years on strands of DNA.

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich announced earlier this month that they pioneered a process of creating a fossilized form of data storage by encapsulating strands of DNA in glass. The results of the experiment were published in the journal Angewandte Chemie in February.

The breakthrough could lead to the creation of digital archives, storing everything from ancient texts to Wikipedia pages in DNA form that could survive for hundreds of thousands of years without the loss of any data. By comparison, today’s most powerful hard drives hold about 6 terabytes of data and last for only decades.

“We will show how we can use modern chemical and information engineering tools for the safeguarding of actual digital information in the form of DNA,” the researchers said at the 250th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society in Boston on August 17.

Led by Robert Grass, researchers converted 83 kilobytes of text from the medieval Swiss Federal Charter of 1291 and the Methods of Archimedes from the 10th Century, into a code based on sequences of DNA’s four chemical building blocks.

“On a hard drive, we use zeros and ones to represent data, and in DNA we have four nucleotides, A, C, T and G,” Grass said.

The code was sent to a lab and transformed into synthetic strands of DNA.

The scientists heated the glass-encased strands to 160 degrees Fahrenheit for several weeks — the equivalent to storing DNA at 50 degrees Fahrenheit for 2,000 years — and then decoded the 83 kilobytes of data back to the original text using the Reed-Solomon codes, an error-correcting algorithm used for satellite communications.

Only by protecting the strands of DNA in glass and using an error-correcting code, is it possible to store data in DNA for significant amounts of time, Grass told PBS NewsHour.

“If you go back to medieval times in Europe, we had monks writing in books to transmit information for the future, and some of those books still exist,” Grass said. “Now, we save information on hard drives, which we wear out in a few decades.”

Based on their findings, the researchers noted that if stored at subzero temperatures, DNA could be used to save data for up to one million years.

Despite DNA’s density and capacity to hold virtually limitless amounts of data, it is not rewritable and it cannot be reused, and it has no inherent filing system, meaning it’s impossible to isolate a single file of data from a strand of DNA.

“This is of course impractical,” Grass said, “so we are working on novel ways to select specific pieces of information written with DNA.”

The post Looking for a way to store data for millennia? Try DNA. appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Study finds trauma effects may linger in body chemistry of next generation


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STEPHEN FEE: Fifty-nine-year-old Karen Sonneberg grew up on the North Shore of Long Island, just an hour’s drive from New York City. Her parents survived the Holocaust but rarely mentioned it.

KAREN SONNEBERG: “All I knew was that we were different, that I was different. I didn’t exactly know why.”

STEPHEN FEE: Her parents were Jewish, born in Germany – but after Hitler came to power, their families fled. Sonneberg’s parents were just children but carried the traumas of Nazi oppression throughout their lives.

KAREN SONNEBERG: My mother from the time she was three on, For my father, from the time he was five or six-years-old, he was subjected to the painful existence in Germany.”

STEPHEN FEE: Despite her own comfortable upbringing here in the US, Sonneberg privately struggled for years with anxiety and stress. While she couldn’t prove it, she believed it was somehow linked to her parents’ traumatic childhoods.

KAREN SONNEBERG: “Having discussed this with many of my friends who come from similar backgrounds, it seems to be consistent in most of us, or we’ve had the same challenges. There were definitely challenges that quote unquote ‘American’ kids didn’t seem to have experienced.”

STEPHEN FEE: “Even though you weren’t there.”

KAREN SONNEBERG: “Exactly. That’s the amazing part of it.”

STEPHEN FEE: Now, a new study published this month in the scientific journal Biological Psychiatry, bolsters Sonneberg’s belief that she experienced the after effects of her parents’ trauma.

Dr. Rachel Yehuda, director of Mount Sinai’s Traumatic Stress Studies Division led the study. Her team interviewed and drew blood from 32 sets of survivors and their children, focusing on a gene called FKBP5

RACHEL YEHUDA, ICAHN SCHOOL OF MEDICINE AT MT. SINAI: “We already know that this is a gene that contributes to risk for depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

STEPHEN FEE: Yehuda noticed a pattern among the Holocaust survivors called an “epigenetic change” — not a change in the gene itself, but rather a change in a chemical marker attached to it.

RACHEL YEHUDA, ICAHN SCHOOL OF MEDICINE AT MT. SINAI: “When we looked at their own children, their children also had an epigenetic change in the same spot on a stress-related gene.”

STEPHEN FEE: “What does that suggest?”

RACHEL YEHUDA, ICAHN SCHOOL OF MEDICINE AT MT. SINAI: “Well, in the first generation, in the Holocaust survivor, it suggests that there has been an adaptation or a response to a horrendous environmental event, and in the second generation it suggests that there has also been a response of the offspring to this parental trauma.”

STEPHEN FEE: Which means children of Holocaust survivors like Sonneberg could be more likely to develop stress or anxiety disorders.

Though their study was small, Yehuda and her team controlled for any early trauma the survivors’ children may have experienced themselves.

STEPHEN FEE: “How is it that a parent who was subjected to the trauma of the Holocaust is able to somehow transmit that to a child who wasn’t there?”

RACHEL YEHUDA, ICAHN SCHOOL OF MEDICINE AT MT. SINAI: “That’s a really good question, and this study that we did doesn’t address ‘the how.’
The study that we did just provides a proof of concept that we might be able to identify the how if we do more research.”

STEPHEN FEE: DNA is passed from parents to children. But research like Yehuda’s suggests parental life experiences can modify their body chemistry — and those modifications can be transmitted to children as well.

Scientists have examined this idea before. After a famine in Holland during 1944 and 1945, children were born with the effects of malnutrition two generations after the food shortage ended.

Previously, Yehuda herself studied stress hormone levels in children born to women who survived the September 11th terrorist attacks.
She’s been examining the link between trauma experienced by Holocaust survivors and their children for more than 20 years.

RACHEL YEHUDA, ICAHN SCHOOL OF MEDICINE AT MT. SINAI: “A trauma is an event that changes you. It doesn’t have to change you for the negative. Trauma changes you in lots of different ways, but most people who experience extreme trauma learn a great deal from that experience, and some of those lessons may be lessons that are transmitted to the child, and that’s not a bad thing.”

STEPHEN FEE: Yehuda says the implications aren’t limited to Holocaust survivors. But this dwindling population provides insight into how clinicians understand and treat stress disorders.

RACHEL YEHUDA, ICAHN SCHOOL OF MEDICINE AT MT. SINAI: “If you’re at risk for heart disease, a lot of times the doctor can separate out well this is your weight, that’s not good, this is your diet, these are you genetic risks, and things like that. And it would be very nice if we could develop a similar risk profile in the mental health arena where we would be able to understand where the risk factors come from for depression and anxiety.”

STEPHEN FEE: “We’re on the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
There were children who were born after that trauma. There are children born in the trauma of a war in Syria and other crises around the world. If you’re the child of a parent who experienced trauma, are you doomed to be depressed or stressed for the rest of your life?”

RACHEL YEHUDA, ICAHN SCHOOL OF MEDICINE AT MT. SINAI: “I don’t think you’re doomed. But I think that many children of traumatized parents have struggled with depression and anxiety. And I can tell you that many of them have felt relieved that there might be a contributing factor that has been based on how they’re responding to their parental trauma. I think that it’s helped people work through a lot of that depression and anxiety.”

STEPHEN FEE: Relief is exactly what Karen Sonneberg, the child of Holocaust survivors, felt after she participated in one of Dr. Yehuda’s trauma survivor studies. She lost her mother 30 years ago but looks forward to her father’s 90th birthday next year.

KAREN SONNEBERG: “I learned to cope in my life. I’ve learned to move on and get over all of this. Had I known at the time how my reactions could impact future children, my children’s reactions, I might’ve dealt with things differently or gotten them some sort of treatment that maybe would help them in the future.”

The post Study finds trauma effects may linger in body chemistry of next generation appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

The race for the unbreakable password is almost over

The quantum key distribution hardware, which serves as the basis for their QkarD system, engineered at Los Alamos. Photo
         by Los Alamos National Laboratory

This quantum key/password distribution hardware, called QkarD and engineered at Los Alamos National Laboratory, is theoretically unhackable by outsiders. Photo by Los Alamos National Laboratory

What Ashley Madison needed was quantum cryptography.

The same could be said for the U.S. Office of Professional Management, Home Depot and Anthem Health Insurance, and any number of hacker targets in recent years…even PBS.

Quantum cryptography is the use of physics, specifically quantum mechanics, to build secret codes. It is so secure, so difficult to intercept, some call it unhackable. Banking, medical, business and government records around the world could be made secure from outside intruders.

As the name suggests, the idea is based on quantum mechanics — a branch of physics that explains the peculiar behavior of atomic and subatomic particles. Theoretical physicist Richard Feynman once said, “It is safe to say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.” We’re going to take a stab in this article at explaining it. But before we dive into its murky principles, let’s tackle why quantum cryptography is needed in the first place.

Even though encryption has existed since the age of Caesar, it’s only in the last five to 10 years that the topic has moved from being small-scale — an attack on a home computer or a single company — to multi-level attacks that can impact millions of people at a time, said Richard Moulds, a data security, cryptography expert and vice president at Whitewood Encryption Systems. Think eBay, JP Morgan Chase or the federal Office of Personnel Management. The stakes have always been high: Codebreakers led to the execution of Mary Queen of Scots in 1587 and helped defeat the Axis powers in World War II. But modern data breaches implicate the personal information — home addresses, phone numbers, credit cards — of whole swaths of society, and the cost of dealing with these hacks are huge.

Data breaches cost U.S. companies $6.5 million on average in 2014, according to The Ponemon Institute. If your company lost over 500,000 records, this number jumped to $11.9 million.

Naturally, these costs get passed onto the consumer, and since 2005, the annual cost per capita for data breaches has risen from $138 to $217. That means you are losing 200 bucks each year due to data breaches. (For a cool visual of the world’s biggest hacks in recent years, check out Information is Beautiful.)

Annual number of data breaches and exposed records in the United States from 2005 to 2014 (in millions). Graph by Statista.
         Data source: Identity Theft Resource Center

Annual number of data breaches and exposed records in the United States from 2005 to 2014 (in millions). Graph by Statista. Data source: Identity Theft Resource Center

Hacking With Light

Hackers or codebreakers have become increasingly adept at breaking the modern security that safeguards digital information. That’s because at the end of day, most types of computer encryption and passwords are based on a random number, and hackers are getting better at guessing or stealing those numbers.

Take, for example, RSA encryption, which is the foundation for most Internet security today. RSA uses math to conceal data with two randomly selected prime numbers.

“Getting a [traditional] computer program to generate a random number is almost an oxymoron because computer programs do the same thing over and over and over again. They do what they’re programmed to do, and they don’t do things randomly,” Moulds said. “As the bad guys’ computers get better, faster and stronger, then in principle, those random numbers get easier to guess.”

Such was the case of last year’s hack of Sony Pictures. Infiltrators used an advanced computer program with enough brute force to guess the company’s passwords. Once inside, the hackers alleged to have collected sensitive data for nearly a year, before they started wiping many of the computers and tried to publicly damage the company’s reputation.

But if the Sony hack seemed bad, it pales in comparison with what could have happened, had the bad guys used a quantum computer.

The pursuit to build the first quantum computer mirrors the Cold War-era space race or the WWII-era hunt for a nuclear weapon. Such a computer would use the quantum physics of photons — light particles — to outmatch any traditional computer or digital security system that has ever been created.


Unlike classic computers that use electricity to represent information in binary bits (1s and 0s), quantum computers use photons to represent information as 1s, 0s or both values simultaneously. That’s because at the quantum level, photons can exist in more than one state at once. (Remember, quantum mechanics doesn’t make sense). As such, a quantum computer can make more than one calculation at once, significantly cutting the time it takes to process information. For instance, a quantum computer could guess the random numbers that reinforce most passwords and data encryption in a matter of minutes.

Last week, the National Security Agency issued a bulletin that warned companies to prepare for the emergence of a quantum computers.

“Our ultimate goal is to provide cost effective security against a potential quantum computer,” the statement reads.

The advisory, wrote Dan Goodin wrote for Ars Technica, signals the growing recognition that quantum computing “could soon represent a practical threat on U.S. national security. Until now, the lack of consensus about how long it will take for scientists to build a working quantum computer has kept the NSA from making such concrete recommendations.”

As Goodin points out, it could take 10 to 50 years before a quantum computer is ready to replace our PCs, but the components for such a device exist. On August 14, physicists at Bristol University in the UK announced that they had engineered a 4-inch by 1.5 inch optical chip that can serve as a quantum central processing unit (CPU).

“It can implement all the basic gates [or circuits] required for quantum computing,” said University of Bristol physicist Anthony Laing, who led the project. His group teamed with Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT), a major telecommunications company, and their invention was reported in the journal Science.

Silicon oxide based quantum optics lab-on-a-chip. Photo by University of Bristol

Silicon oxide based quantum optics lab-on-a-chip. Photo by University of Bristol

Bristol University’s optical chip tests quantum theories with unprecedented speed. Quantum experiments that would otherwise months to a year can be completed in just minutes, even seconds, with this chip. It would allow Laing and other physicists to can push the limits of computer science. Consider the Church-Turing thesis, which is named after American mathematician Alonzo Church and the British mathematician and Engima machine codebreaker Alan Turing.

“Church-Turing thesis is a foundational idea in computer science that every realistic, physical system should be efficiently simulated by a classical computer,” Laing said, but since quantum computers don’t operate by classical laws, they’re immediately in conflict with the idea. Some strong supporters don’t believe that quantum computers could ever exist, because they’re forbidden by this thesis.

Dr. Anthony Laing with his students Chris Sparrow, Jacques Carolan, and Chris Harrold (left to right) stand behind the
         universal linear optical processor, with its electronics, photon source and photon detection system. Photo by University of

Dr. Anthony Laing with his students Chris Sparrow, Jacques Carolan, and Chris Harrold (left to right) stand behind the universal linear optical processor, with its electronics, photon source and photon detection system. Photo by University of Bristol

“So MIT computer scientist Scott Aranson had a neat idea. He said instead of building the final package [quantum computer], let’s just build a quantum device that can specifically overthrow the Church-Turing thesis,” Laing said. The result was a phenomenon called called boson sampling.

“We were able to implement 100 boson experiments back-to-back in rapid fire with three and four photons,” Laing said. That’s not at the scale where they could challenge the Church-Turing thesis, but by using more photons and building a larger version of the device, which would be relatively easy to do, they could disprove the Church-Turing thesis, and in essence, could shake what we know about the traditional computer.

The Antidote: An unbreakable quantum password

Quantum computers are knocking on humanity’s door. Google wants one. IBM wants one. The NSA wants one. The devices could solve complex math problems, create new drugs or speed up your Google searches, but when used nefariously, they could tap your encrypted messages. In fact, computer scientist Lov Grover and MIT mathematician Peter Shor conceived the “quantum software” for the job around 20 years ago.

So what can everyone else do to protect their digital messages and data from the potential of quantum hackers?

Simple. “You send the messages in a quantum state,” said Boston University quantum physicist Alexander Sergienko.

Quantum cryptography uses photons to send secret messages between two people. Think of it as a tin-can telephone, wherein a nylon string transmits two people’s voices via tin cans. With quantum cryptography, the string is replaced by a stream of photons — the basic unit of rays of light. So rather than sending email as electronic bits (1s and 0s), the two people send quantum messages using photons with two different physical states.

Due to the foundations of quantum — namely the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle — it’s impossible to copy or intercept these photons without altering them and alerting the message recipient. To return to the tin-can telephone analogy, it’s impossible for an eavesdropper to intercept a quantum message without cutting the string.

“It would be the niche of absolutely secure communication. It means no one could break it. It’ll stay secure for 10, 20, 30 years down the road, unlike many conventional encryption technologies,” Sergienko said. As long as the equipment isn’t flawed, that is.

In 2003 and 2004, Sergienko teamed with scientists at Harvard University and BBN Technologies to build a three-node, 18-mile network for sending quantum encrypted messages along fiber optic cables in Boston. Since then, groups in Europe and Japan have demoed citywide networks. China plans to build a 1,200-mile quantum connection between Beijing and Shanghai, while the Ohio-based research and development company is constructing a quantum network that stretches from Boston to Georgia to California.

However, distance is a major impediment to quantum messages, as photons tend to be absorbed or disturbed the further that they travel through a fiber optic cable.

“Several papers show an upper limits of 124 to 186 miles. Also, the longer that you go, the lower the rate. The question is how useful is sending data 186 miles at one bit per second, when everything in modern telecommunications goes at megabits and gigabits per second?” said Sergienko.

This bandwidth issue could take years to fix. Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico are not only working on ways around it, but on how to reinforce our current data security with quantum mechanics. Last autumn, Los Alamos struck the biggest deal in its history with Richard Moulds’ parent company Allied Minds to commercialize these products.

Earlier this month, it unveiled a quantum-based generator that creates random numbers — the same random numbers that fuel passwords and other current forms of digital security. The quantum number generator — dubbed The Entropy Engine — looks like a regular computer board that you would slide into a server. Unlike passwords made by conventional computers, these quantum passcodes (or keys) would be difficult to guess by brute force, thus, impeding brute force attacks like the Sony Picture hack.

“Eventually, random number generators like the Entropy Engine would be placed in data centers to continuously generate passwords and data encryption. Most people would be consuming it as a security service from their email, Internet or cloud provider, rather than buying hardware. The cost might run between $5,000 and $10,000,” Moulds said.

Quantum random number generator churns out encrypted passcodes/keys so fast that it could make life harder for hackers like the ones that struck Ashley Madison or Home Depot, where an insider possibly revealed the passwords or weakened security systems so hackers could access an internal network.

“Our quantum random number generator generates entropy so rapidly that one could create new cryptographic keys very rapidly and not need to reuse keys,” said Los Alamos physicist and leader of the quantum communications team Raymond Newell. “As an analogy, if you only have one key, you’ll need to build all your locks to match it, and anyone who steals your key can open all your locks. But if you have many many keys, you can build a different lock for each [door], and anyone who steals a key can open only one lock.”

Moulds points out that another issue with the Ashley Madison hack “was that they only bothered to encrypt some of their data.”

“The attacker wasn’t interested in accessing accounts, he or she was focused on attacking and discrediting Ashley Madison as an organization. Therefore being able to steal large quantities of non-encrypted personal information was exactly what the attacker was looking for – details about sexual preferences is much more sensational than passwords,” Moulds said. “What this shows, is that for organizations that acknowledge that they might suffer a data breach (which really should be everyone) then they should encrypt all data that might be interesting to anyone. To encrypt only a subset of your data is like locking the front door but leaving the windows open.”

The next stage is beefing up security that involves moving quantum keys, which would involve a quantum network. Los Alamos ran its secure communications on a secret quantum Internet for two years and has since put that technology into a package called QkarD.

“The first targeted market would be not directly to consumers, but rather for the type of Internet corporations that are securing their internal communications,” Newell said. “Our team and others around the world are working on those distance challenges, but it will be two to five years before QkarD reaches consumers.”

Newell’s team is working to circumvent the problem and send faster quantum messages via the air like satellite signals. Chinese scientists are also developing a quantum satellite, slated to launch in 2016.

“If you think about the progression from where we are today and how we can make sure that our security in 20 years is able to withstand quantum computing effects. We’ve got to migrate our cryptosystems over the next two decades to much stronger systems,” Moulds said

The post The race for the unbreakable password is almost over appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Smart cane may help visually impaired navigate more terrain


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GWEN IFILL: Now an innovation that may help the blind become more independent.

It’s a new take on the familiar white cane that the visually impaired have been using for decades.

The NewsHour’s April Brown reports from the northeast region of France for the latest in our Breakthroughs series on invention and innovation.

APRIL BROWN: Lysiane Perney doesn’t see the world the way most people do. In fact, she doesn’t see much of it at all. Perney, who lives in the city of Nancy in Northeastern France, suffers from retinitis pigmentosa. Photoreceptor cells in her eyes, the rods and cones, have been dying. And that causes the gradual loss of everything but central vision, and also the ability to see colors.

LYSIANE PERNEY, Visually Impaired (through interpreter): When you move around in a city when you are visually impaired, it is very stressful, knowing where you are, having some landmarks, knowing this is the right bus line.

Nevertheless, Perney is a busy, independent woman, an elected city council member and an advocate for the disabled. She moves around with the help of a few smartphone apps and a white cane, the kind the visually impaired have been using for decades to avoid obstacles.

But, soon, she may be able to buy a new kind of cane, one that will tell her a lot more about her surroundings.

Co-Founder, Handisco: You can have real-time information during your walk, like you can have information about public transportation, about the shops, public places. You can have at what time the shop opens.

Florian Esteves and Mathieu Chevalier are engineering graduates turned budding entrepreneurs who are developing an intelligent white cane. They have created a high-tech box that fits on a traditional white cane and uses infrared and ultrasonic sensors to detect obstacles, triggering the handle to vibrate.

FLORIAN ESTEVES: Just by pressing a button, you can hear the light is green, the light is red, you can cross, be careful about maybe a car, wait a minute.

APRIL BROWN: Their cane also incorporates GPS technology to determine a person’s location, and will share data from the city of Nancy and elsewhere that will be relayed through a Bluetooth headset.

COMPUTER VOICE: Tramway stop. Next tramway five minutes.

The idea for the intelligent white cane was hatched while Esteves and Chevalier were students at the University of Lorraine. They entered Le Defi Cisco, a contest designed to inspire technological innovations to solve social and environmental problems.

Co-Founder, Handisco: We just observed that these people only use a simple stick every day to work in the city. And we had all the same reaction. With all of the current technology and the current objects, we can do better.

APRIL BROWN: And their better stick won. The contest sponsor, Cisco France, awarded the team the top prize and 70,000 euros, about $77,500.

REMI SEDILOT, Director of Commercial Distribution, Cisco France: For the contest, what we are trying to choose is projects that are touching the life of people.

APRIL BROWN: Remi Sedilot is the company’s sales and marketing director in France. He now mentors Esteves and Chevalier as they try to grow their new company, Handisco, and get the intelligent cane ready for the market.

FLORIAN ESTEVES: LED for night visibility and some buttons to interact.

As trained engineers, Esteves and Chevalier admit they can use Sedilot’s help on the business end.

I’m just trying to help them to identify the right contacts or the right things to do to be ready, to have a good market study, what is the pricing structure they should have to have a chance to sell.

APRIL BROWN: But, before they can sell, they have to refine their prototype. The pair has been working closely with the city of Nancy to pursue additional funding, and find a way to get existing data about transportation schedules, accessibility and other services into a computer program that works with the cane. Esteves and Chevalier are also collaborating with eventual users of their product.

MATHIEU CHEVALIER: They tell us all the problems they can encounter in everyday life, so that’s really helped us to build our functionality around their problem.

APRIL BROWN: Like the problem of portability. Since the box fits on an existing white cane, it folds and unfolds just as easily.

Is that something that blind people told you was necessary?


MATHIEU CHEVALIER: Yes. It’s very, very important.

APRIL BROWN: That kind of insight has come from a partnership with Association Valentin Hauy, a French organization supporting the visually impaired.

MARIE-JOSE DIEUDONNE, Association Valentin Hauy (through translator): The stick is a marvelous object because it provides with all that their eyes can’t give them; 75 percent of all information comes through vision.

APRIL BROWN: Marie-Jose Dieudonne has been working with Nancy’s visually impaired for years and runs the association’s office there. She believes there is a ready market for the cane, even at an expected cost of 500 euros.

MARIE-JOSE DIEUDONNE (through interpreter): I think 30 percent of the visually impaired would go for such a product, so all the people between 30 and 75. With the baby boom, there are more and more seniors, and they will opt for a connected stick. It is an age group that is already connected.

APRIL BROWN: Meanwhile, Lysiane Perney has been testing the weight of the prototype, and wishes it could be a bit lighter. And she is looking forward to playing a role in the next stage of the cane’s development, taking it for a real trial run as soon as the computer programming is finished.

(through interpreter): I was a bit skeptical about something new coming onto the market. But I wanted to test it, because the best ones to try it out are us, the end users, visually impaired people. I rejoiced in discovering that it could bring us something more.

APRIL BROWN: And the hope is the cane will give the visually impaired more information and more confidence to successfully navigate the world on their own.

For the PBS NewsHour, I’m April Brown in Nancy, France.

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