Tuesday October 21 2014
The Laval News, Laval's English newspaper since 1993 - Journal anglais à Laval depuis 1993.

Chomedey’s Jewish Rehab is helping make malls friendlier

From the left, CRIR scientific director Dr. Eva Kehayia and Kimberley Singerman, coordinator of clinical education and research, are assisting in the development of new technologies designed to help the physically and cognitively challenged

Researchers affiliated with the Chomedey-based Jewish Rehabilitation Hospital are developing innovative new technologies with the potential to make shopping easier for the elderly and the handicapped, and which may one day be used on a global basis.

The JRH specializes in rehabilitation issues involving sensory, motor and cognitive skills. It is also one of the research components of the Centre de recherche interdisciplinaire en réadaption de Montréal (CRIR).

Working on projects
While the JRH exists primarily to provide treatment to patients with health problems, research conducted at the hospital has led to a number of projects which have the potential to improve patients’ lives.

The CRIR’s “living lab” project, in which the JRH is actively taking part, is using one of Montreal’s best-known interior shopping centres, Place Alexis Nihon, as the testing ground for a number of fledgling technologies which are being designed for the physically and cognitively challenged.

As anyone with long-range vision might agree, the concept of making malls and other high-traffic public places more accessible has the significant potential to open up access to a niche of consumers that most retailers and service providers haven’t paid much attention to until now.

As the CRIR and the JRH are conducting some of the only active R & D in this area of interest, they could end up being the ones that others eventually seek out for knowledge and the technology that could result in patents. Over the next four years, Place Alexis Nihon (which is owned by Canmarc REIT, the same company that owns the Centre Laval mall) will be hosting the CRIR researchers.

Under development
Among the various articles, tools and devices they will be testing with the help of their clients are: transmitters and receivers that can tell visually impaired persons what stores and services are available and how they can get there; special cameras that can detect human traffic movements so that problem areas can be located; computer software to help the cognitively-impaired get around efficiently in a “virtual” grocery store; and “smart” wheelchairs programmed to transport a person from one store to another in a mall while avoiding obstacles.
“My guess is that eventually, once these changes become visible at Place Alexis Nihon, other malls in Montreal and around Canada will become more accepting,” Eva Kehayia, scientific director at the CRIR, told the Laval News during a special research presentation held at the JRH on Jan. 17. According to Kehayia, the act of placing technologies like these in just one mall at first “will probably instigate other similar initiatives.

“I have no doubt that a lot of technology and innovation will come out of this,” she added, noting one particular technology being developed by co-researcher Philippe Archambault will help guide wheelchairs with the help of GPS.

GPS’s limitations
One of the problems to be overcome at this stage is that existing GPS technology is dependent on satellite signals that can only be received if there is a line of sight. While that’s usually no problem for a GPS unit exposed to the sky through the windshield of a car, the researchers have to figure out a way to apply the technology in an enclosed mall.

So far, the CRIR has managed to attract the interest of at least one company that is interested in developing some of the researchers’ virtual reality ideas. The product – software that duplicates a grocery store and allows its users to navigate in a retail environment – will allow patients to train and become familiar with the actual store setting before they go there. It’s now being adapted to function in conjunction with the IGA supermarket at Place Alexis Nihon.

Kehayia said she has “no doubt that patents will be obtained” for this and other technologies being developed by the CRIR in conjunction with the JRH and the other Montreal-area rehabilitation institutions that are also involved. She said that at the moment they have 16 projects in development. According to Kehayia, the researchers are very optimistic about their prospects. Their work only started last September after several hundred thousand dollars in funding came through from the Quebec government last May.

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