Patents are a virtue: second sight, head cases and waterworks

AJ Park patent specialists Anton Blijlevens and Jillian Lim touch on some of the interesting patents to look out for on the shelves.

Read Braille…visually

By the end of this year, Americans blinded by degenerative retinal disease could have their sight partially restored thanks to a bionic eye developed by Second Sight. The visual prosthesis captures images via a camera mounted on the patient’s glasses and processes the images into instructions for stimulating an array of electrodes implanted in the patient’s retina. Stimulation of the retinal cells generates the perception of different patterns of light, which the patient learns to interpret as shapes of objects, and even letters and words.

However, according to Second Sight, reading letters is not yet practical, because it can take minutes to read short words, and the letters have to be at least 1 cm high at reading distance.

In their patent application, US 20130157229, Second Sight describes a solution – replacing letters in the captured scene with Braille. The processor scans the captured image for any patterns representing letters, converts these into Braille characters, then presents these to the patient by stimulating a 3×2 grid of electrodes to depict the Braille patterns.

The Braille characters could be overlaid over written letters in the scene that is perceived by the patient. Or the patient could switch between a reading mode and the scene mode.  

Helmet in a scarf

We all know how important it is to wear a helmet while cycling, but some people still choose not to wear one, because it’s too bulky, too hot, or too ugly.

Hovding has designed a completely different type of helmet, as described in patent US 8,402,568, which was granted earlier this year. In fact, it looks a lot more like a scarf – at least until it senses abnormal movement of the wearer’s head and starts inflating its airbag around the wearer’s neck and head.

The patent covers a system with an airbag in two parts; the first part starts to inflate to surround the wearer’s neck first before the second part begins to inflate into a hood for the wearer’s head. This ensures that the wearer’s neck is stabilised first, to prevent whiplash.

Recycle your shower, while you shower

Orbital Systems has designed a recirculating shower system which it claims can save 90 percent of the water and 80 percent of the energy used in a conventional shower. As described in the patent application, WO 2013095278, the system does this by purifying all the water that goes through the shower drain and pumping it directly back to the shower head. The cycle repeats until a filter sensor detects that the water is sufficiently dirty, then the water is redirected to drainage.

In other words, it is a hybrid system which is automatically set to recycle water, but which can be overridden, either when the system senses inferior water quality, or manually by the user. This makes sense, for when the system malfunctions, or as the patent application suggests, if there are several users and “a few of the users have little faith in technology”.

The system additionally includes a nano-filter to remove particulates such as silica, bacteria and even viruses. The water passes through a pre-filter first, such as a standard UV filter or carbon filter, which removes larger particles first in order to lengthen the lifetime of the more expensive nano-filter.

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