Lorraine Keller, Ph.D. is the CEO of Technical Vision, Inc., a medical equipment company specializing in the design and manufacture of quality personal assistive devices. Technical Vision’s customers, many of whom are older adults, live every day with chronic, uncorrectable eye conditions. These conditions include macular degeneration, glaucoma, retinal disease, and age-related night blindness – conditions that can compromise personal safety and the ability to live independently.
Technical Vision’s newest – and most innovative – product is My Mobile Light™ Low Vision Aid. My Mobile Light™ projects an intense, clear, ultra-bright LED light beam in a wide arc around the feet and in the immediate walking area. This additional lighting can help the user feel more secure, confident, and independent when walking from the bedroom to the bathroom at night or when traveling in unfamiliar locations outside the home. My Mobile Light™ also functions as a support cane to assist with gait and balance.
After a career of almost 20 years as a life sciences researcher at a large corporation, Dr. Keller “retired” and began a second career as an entrepreneur. Over the past 11 years, she co-founded four life sciences companies that develop products as diverse as gene therapies, immunotherapeutic cancer vaccines for humans, and a new oral drug for dogs and cats with cancer. Technical Vision, Inc. is Dr. Keller’s first medical device company.
Maureen Duffy: Hello Dr. Keller. I am very excited to talk with you about the progress you’ve made in developing My Mobile Light™. To begin, can you tell us the history of this project? How did you initially envision the product and determine it was needed?
Lorraine Keller: Our goal was to create an effective, practical, and easy-to-use daily living aid for people with uncorrectable visual impairments such as age-related night blindness, glaucoma, retinitis pigmentosa, macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy, as well as other chronic conditions, like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.
Low vision impairs depth and color perception and the ability to judge distances, especially in poorly lighted environments. This can dramatically decrease a person’s mobility. One of the greatest fears of people with vision loss is getting around safely at home and away without being injured by tripping or falling. Research has shown that the combination of low vision and low light doubles the risk of falling and that fifty percent of falls occur at home, most often on level surfaces.
MD: Can you explain some of the features of My Mobile Light™? What makes it different from using a regular support cane and a flashlight, for example?
LK: My Mobile Light™ combines two different assistive concepts – bright lighting and mobility support – in a completely new way. My Mobile Light™ projects clear, even, bright light directly onto the ground around the user’s feet and immediate walking area to illuminate obstacles on the floor or outdoor ground.
The support cane function assists with balance and gait, both of which are frequently impaired by vision loss and physical instability. My Mobile Light™ can help people overcome social and infrastructural barriers and enable them to more easily and independently carry out everyday activities that would otherwise be difficult, dangerous, or even impossible.
Many people ask us “Why not just use a flashlight or headlamp with a cane?” There are several reasons. Flashlights require a separate hand for operation; a hand that’s not available for carrying things, or holding a railing or grab bar. The light emitted by many flashlights is bluish, and not an optimal color for people with low vision. The light tends to be concentrated in a small, intense, and limited area only where the flashlight is pointed. The electronic circuitry in many flashlights causes the light intensity to decrease as the batteries are drained, so light gradually becomes dimmer and less useful.
As for headlamps, the light projects ahead of the traveler and not down around the feet where the immediate tripping hazards are. The wearer has to look down to aim the light, which increases the risk of losing his or her balance. Headlamp straps can cause headaches. And who wants to go out for an evening with family or friends sporting a light on the forehead?
MD: Can you tell us about the research you conducted as you field-tested My Mobile Light™?
LK: We designed and tested My Mobile Light™ under conditions that simulated the same night-time vision impairments and travel conditions that would be experienced by visually impaired users. The most profound experience for me was becoming completely sightless under low vision simulation in the dark – only then did I understand the degree of vision loss and disorientation in the absence of adequate lighting.
Those of us who are fully sighted can only appreciate the difficulties of navigating in low lighting with low vision by walking in the “other person’s shoes,” and those are the conditions we used to develop our product. We wore goggles that simulated 20/800 visual acuity and conducted our concept tests outdoors at night in suburban neighborhoods with cars, curbs, signposts, shrubbery, fallen tree limbs, and trash cans on and around the streets and sidewalks.
Our research identified the optimal light color, light intensity, and positioning of the light source most useful to the visually impaired user. This was a multidisciplinary collaboration: We worked with Dr. Audrey Smith, Professor and Dean of the Salus University College of Education and Rehabilitation and with professional engineers from IMET Corporation and MTS Ventures, bringing together expertise in low vision, LED lighting, electronics, and product design.
We began by researching how light and color perception are affected by different chronic eye conditions, and selected and tested several colors of LED lights from different color spectra to identify the optimal one for visually impaired eyes. IMET Corporation identified the LED and built special electronic circuitry to provide constant light output that does not gradually dim like a flashlight, and MTS Ventures created the final design that is practical and easy to use.
Shielding this tiny but intense light source is very important to direct the light to the walking area and to minimize glare to the user and people in the surrounding area.
Descending stairs with My Mobile Light™
Climbing stairs with My Mobile Light™
MD: What is the difference between My Mobile Light™ and the long white cane that is part of a structured program of orientation and mobility instruction?
LK: My Mobile Light™ is an offset cane that offers gait and balance support. It is not a mobility cane, although we do have a prototype LED mobility cane waiting for a source of funds to develop. An offset cane handle is angled so that the hand grip falls directly over the cane tip or base. It offers better ergonomics and stability, since the person’s full weight is centered over the cane shaft and base.
My Mobile Light™ is meant for use by individuals with mild to moderate low vision who also need gait and balance support – typically older adults.
MD: I understand you’re in the midst of a major fundraising and manufacturing campaign right now. When will My Mobile Light™ be ready for distribution?
LK: We are still a very small company and have funded virtually all product development ourselves. I am delighted to say that we are in the process of manufacturing our first run of 200 My Mobile Light™ devices that will be ready for purchase online at Technical Vision, Inc in Fall 2014.
We are seeking “angel” investment to fund the next manufacturing run and to support company operations and product launch. We are currently running a crowdfunding campaign on CureFunders.com, a new site specializing in fundraising for healthcare companies.
MD: Where can readers locate more information about My Mobile Light™?
LK: Readers can visit our website at www.technicalvisioninc.com, where there is much more information about the My Mobile Light™ product, including a video demonstrating how the product works in dark environments. I also encourage readers to visit our blog, where we post informative and educational articles about vision impairment, falls prevention, and independent living.
MD: Do you have any new research and development projects on the horizon?
LK: We are planning several enhancements to My Mobile Light™. Chip-based technology makes it easy to incorporate many different safety and convenience functions into a single device for navigation and personal protection.
We are exploring some new concepts to assist with nighttime navigation in the home, and we also plan to use the LED and electronics technology in the My Mobile Light™ device in other products to help people with vision impairment navigate in low lighting.
Right now My Mobile Light™ is only available in basic black; we plan to add more colors and designs to our product line.
We thank Dr. Lorraine Keller for her support of VisionAware and for her research on behalf of blind and visually persons worldwide. You can find additional information on lighting and aging in place at There’s No Place Like Home: Planning to Age in Place and Task or Directed Lighting on the VisionAware website.
More Vision Research
- Meet Robert Wall Emerson, Ph.D. and the Newly-Funded “Better Long White Cane” Project
- Meet Duane Geruschat, Ph.D. and the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis at Second Sight Medical Products
- Meet Aries Arditi, Ph.D., Founder and Principal Scientist of Visibility Metrics, LLC
- Dr. Sheila Nirenberg: A MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Award for Artificial Retina Research
My Mobile Light™ images provided by Technical Vision, Inc. Used with permission.