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Feb 07, 2000

Artificial vision system for the blind

The Dobelle Institute, Inc.

New York — A biomedical engineering team announced development of an artificial vision system providing independent mobility to blind people. The system, reflecting more than 30 years in development work by the Dobelle Institute in New York City and its affiliates on Long Island and in Switzerland, enables a totally blind person to achieve visual acuity of about 20/400, in a narrow visual "tunnel."

The "Dobelle Eye," as described in the current issue of the ASAIO Journal (the journal of American Society of Artificial Internal Organs) and in companion commentaries in Nature and Lancet, consists of a sub-miniature television camera and an ultrasonic distance sensor, both of which are mounted on a pair of eyeglasses. The sensors connect through a cable to a miniature computer, which is worn in a pack on a person's belt. After processing the video and distance signals, the computer uses sophisticated computer-imaging technology, including edge-detection algorithms to simplify the image eliminating "noise." The computer then triggers a second microcomputer that transmits pulses to an array of 68 platinum electrodes implanted on the surface of the brain's visual cortex. Bringing wires through the skin for two decades without discomfort or infection is one of many independent inventions that has made the new visual prosthesis possible.

When stimulated, each electrode produces one to four closely spaced phosphenes, which have been described as resembling "stars in the sky." This white phosphene on a black background "map" is roughly eight inches by two inches at arms length.

The patient in the study reported in ASAIO Journal is a 62-year-old male who was totally blinded by trauma when he was 36 years old. After learning to use the system and "read" the display, the patient is now able to read two inch tall letters at a distance of five feet, representing a visual acuity of about 20/400. Although the relatively small electrode array produces tunnel vision, the patient is also able to navigate in unfamiliar environments including the New York City subway system. By replacing the sub-miniature television camera with a special electronic interface, the patient is also learning to "watch" television, use a computer, and gain access to the Internet.

"The development of an artificial eye that can enable the blind to "see" realizes a prediction made by Benjamin Franklin when he reported the discovery of electricity in 1751," said Dr. William H. Dobelle founder of the Dobelle Institute. "Our progress represents the work of more than 300 scientists, engineers and physicians who contributed to various aspects of the project. With further refinements—including larger arrays of electrodes and more powerful computers—the system is expected to provide a "cure" for most types of pediatric and adult blindness . Brains of sighted people respond to stimulation like those of blind people, so the system may also be useful for people with very low vision."

The computer package employed in the initial system was the size of a large bookcase and weighed several thousand pounds. After six generations of improvement over the last 21 years, the external electronics package has now been miniaturized so it is about the size of a dictionary and weighs approximately ten pounds, including batteries.

Dr. Dobelle's first human experiments in this artificial vision project took place beginning in 1970 and involved cortical stimulation of 37 sighted volunteers undergoing surgery on the occipital lobe under local anesthesia to remove tumors and other lesions. Three blind volunteers were then temporarily implanted with electrode arrays to stimulate the visual cortex. Subsequent experiments involved four blind volunteers who were implanted with permanent electrode arrays employing percutaneous connecting pedestals. The Dobelle system's electrodes and connecting pedestal were surgically implanted in two blind volunteer's brains in 1978 at the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City. Both have retained their implants and one is the subject of the study reported in the ASAIO Journal.

Dr. Dobelle said that the new artificial vision systems are expected to be made available, on a limited commercial basis, starting later this year.

The Dobelle Institute and its commercial affiliates in Long Island, NY and Zurich, Switzerland constitute one of the world's most sophisticated organizations for education, research, development, manufacturing and clinical implementation of medical devices. Over the last 30 years, the Dobelle Institute has been responsible for the design, manufacture and distribution of other neurological "pacemakers" to control breathing, intractable pain and the urogenital system of about 15,000 patients in more than 40 countries. These clinical systems have gained full regulatory and reimbursement approval from the FDA, Medicare and analogous foreign agencies.

For further information, including videoclips and reproducible art please visit http:/www.artificialvision.com

Intel to build its first high volume 300 mm producTion wafer fab in arizona

Intel Corporation announced it will build its first high-volume production manufacturing facility for 300 millimeter wafers, in Chandler, Ariz. The company said it will invest $2.0 billion to build and equip the wafer fabrication facility. The project is contingent upon local governmental approval, expected in the next few weeks.

"This facility will help us maintain our leadership in the extremely competitive world of semiconductors. Fab 22 will give us more manufacturing capacity in order to help us better address our customers' growing need for high performance microprocessors," said Mike Splinter, Intel senior vice president and general manager of the Technology and Manufacturing Group.

The 300 mm (12-inch) wafer offers 225 percent of the silicon surface area(over twice as much surface area), and about 240 percent of the printed die (individual computer chips) per wafer, relative to standard 200 mm (8-inch) wafers used in many semiconductor manufacturing plants today. In addition, the larger wafers will reduce manufacturing costs per wafer by more than 30 percent. Splinter continued, "Intel plans to bring this fab on line in record time to meet our customers' needs. It will initially begin production using Intel's 0.13-micron process technology with copper metallization on 200 mm wafers in 2001 and transition into the production of 300 mm wafers." A micron is approximately l/100th the width of a typical human hair.

The construction of the new facility will create an estimated 1,000 new jobs over the next five to eight years. These jobs include technicians, engineers and support personnel. There are currently 8,150 Intel employees in Chandler. The new fab will be located on Intel's 705 acre Ocotillo campus in Chandler, near Intel's existing Fab 12. Intel broke ground on Fab 12 in 1994 and was producing computer chips by the summer of 1996.

The new fab will have approximately 360,000 square feet, 133,000 of which will be cleanroom. Additional buildings will be constructed adjacent to Fab 22 and will include a four-story, 320,000 square foot manufacturing support building, a 123,000 square foot central utility building and several expansions to existing buildings and a warehouse.

In addition to announcement, Intel is also continuing to evaluate other sites for additional manufacturing capacity, including its site in New Mexico.

Intel, the world's largest chip maker, is also a leading manufacturer of computer, networking and communications products. Additional information is available at www.intel.com/pressroom.

Pakistani Jewellery Designers Get Worldwide Acclaim

The winners of the Zargalli 1999 gold jewellery design contest have been selected for final judging in the Gold Virtuosi International Gold Jewellery Design Contest being held in Vicenza, Italy.

This is the first time that Pakistani jewellery designers have been recognised and included in an international gold jewellery design contest.

These designers will have their prize winning designs fabricated by the co-sponsor jewellers of Zargalli, which are A.K. Motiwala Jewellers, Ar-Raheem Jewellers, Chhotani Jewel Centre, New Ruby Jewellers and Karat Jewellers (Lahore).

Zargalli is the first ever gold jewellery contest in Pakistan. It was first launched in 1999 by the Worid Gold Council, and received an overwhelming response, with over 1650 submitted by more than 500 designers.

Th contest has now been launched in the current year as Zargalli 2000, and is expected to generate an even higher response than Zargalli 1999.

The Gold Virtuosi International Gold Jewellery Design Contest has been launched jointly by the World Gold Council, AngloGold and the Vicenza Fair Authorities, and its intention is to promote the use of gold jewellery.

Commenting on the inclusion of the Pakistani designers in Gold Virtuosi, Mr. Yousuf Akhtar Hussain, Manager Pakistan and Egypt, World Gold Council, said, "It is indeed a source of pride and inspiration for us that the winners of Zargalli 1999 have been included in Gold Virtuosi. It is just goes to show the wealth of talent that Pakistani jewellery designers have."

The World Gold Council is a non-profit organisation representing the interests of gold producers worldwide. Its primary objective is to identify markets with a high potential for gold consumption and to increase the global off-take of gold. 

Pakistan Society for Training and Development

The Pakistan Society for Training and Development will hold its Second National HR Conference on "Competencies and Values for National Growth," on February 23rd and 24th, 2000, at the Pearl Continental Hotel, Karachi.

This Conference will focus on identifying the managerial competencies and relevant professional values required to support and drive National Growth. It will be a high profile conference, which will attract CEO's, HR and Business Managers and Academicians.

Renowned professionals from the corporate sector and the academic world will present papers on six related topics and provide an indepth perspective on various human resource development techniques and methodologies and their importance in accelerating national growth.

Over 300 professionals and academicians are expected to participate in this conference, and they will share their opinion and knowledge of the human resource development field.

LHC/Hual Joint Venture

HUal (based in Oslo, Norway) the world's sixth largest car carrier operatior, transporting almost 1 million car equivalent units in 1999, and owning / operating almost 74 modern Ro/Ro vessels has changed its ownership structure.

The company's current 50/50 co-owners Leif Hoegh & Co. (LHC) and Ugland International Holdings (UIH) have reached an agreement whereby LHC will purchase UIH's shares in HUAL and become the sole shareholder as of March 31, 2000. The deal is worth almost USD 400 million, including a cash component of USD 233 million.

Mr. Thor J. Guttormsen, President of LHC, will take over from Karl Hauger as President of HUAL, whilst the latter will be appointed to HUAL's Board of Directors as full time advisor to the new President.

Mr. Guttormsen has said: "The acquisition is a compelling strategic investment in our core business at an attractive price".

LHC will continue to develop HUAL's business and organisation based on the existing successful platform, and with its necessary support and engagement, an even stronger HUAL will emerge which should be well placed to meet the challenges ahead, especially in an environment of industry consolidation.

M/s General Shipping Agencies (Pvt) Ltd, Karachi will continue as HUAL's agents in Pakistan, as well as already representing LHC in Pakistan.

New Insurance Act?

The government of Pakistan is nowadays actively engaged in bringing about changes in insurance legislation by replacing the existing Insurance Act of 1938 with a new Act drafted by foreign consultants who were engaged on the advice of Asian Development Bank. This step has surprised everybody as the existing Insurance Act had stood the test of time and many of its provision had been judicially scrutinized over the years. Legal experts strongly feel that amendments wherever required could easily be made in the existing Act and continuity maintained.

The new draft legislation prepared by the foreign consultants does not at all take into account the ground realities in the country and the present structure of the insurance industry. For instance the consultants are advocating a minimum paid up capital requirement of Rs.80 million for general insurance companies when only two or three years back government had fixed it at Rs.20 million. All generl insurance companies are required to bring their paid up capital to Rs.80 million in three years which is an extremely difficult thing under the present economic conditions, likely to persist even in the coming years.

Again in place of the existing solvency margin requirement the foreign consultants in their draft have proposed exceptionally high limits which no insurance company in Pakistan will be able to comply with, resulting in the closure of all insurance companies of the country and consequent unemployment, disruption and chaos.

The foreign consultants have also strangely enough suggested that Pakistan insurance market be opened to foreigners and there should be no restriction on placement of insurance and reinsurance abroad. Present law regulates this as the Controller of Insurance has first to be satisfied that local insurers can not provide cover or absorb the excess in case of reinsurance. In the scheme of things in the mind of the foreign consultants no permission from government should be necessary. This it is feared will not only cripple the local private insurance companies but also destroy Pakistan Insurance Corporation, State Life, National Insurance Corporation as well as result in huge drain of our hard earned foreign exchange.

Besides these there are many other provisions in the new draft bill prepared by the foreign consultants which have been taken from laws of highly developed insurance markets, which under present conditions prevailing in Pakistan cannot be put into practice.

It is learnt that local insurance industry as well as national corporations have strongly taken up with the Ministry of Commerce against it and requested the government to deal with it firmly in the national interest and not to bow down before ADB or their foreign consultants for the sake of meagre amounts of loans which they have promised to lend if government of Pakistan agrees to bring about changes as dictated by ADB and their foreign consultants.