UK’s Pledge to Ban Single-Use Plastics Includes Wet Wipes

In continued efforts to clamp down on plastic waste, British lawmakers are planning to ban wet wipes in the UK.

Although these “flushable” towelettes are convenient to use, they wreak havoc on the environment. That’s because these sheets can contain non-biodegradable materials such as polyester and polypropylene.

“As part of our 25-year environment plan we have pledged to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste, and that includes single-use products that include plastic such as wet wipes,” the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told MailOnline in a statement.

The UK government announced plans last month to end to the sale of plastic straws, drink stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton swabs in England.

Wet wipes are used for cleaning up after babies, removing makeup and have become mainstays in bathrooms around the world. Industry analysts forecast the multibillion-dollar global wet tissue and wipe market to grow 7 percent annually.

However, many wet wipes are mistakenly flushed down the toilet after use. Since they do not break down, they clump and congeal with cooking grease and other discarded items, and as a result, clog the world’s sewer systems. These so-called “fatbergs” are not only revolting, they clog and break pipelines, and are difficult and costly to remove. New York City officials told The New York Times that the city has spent more than $18 million from 2010-2015 on wipe-related equipment problems.

As The Guardian reported last week, wet wipe pollution has changed the shape of Britain’s rivers. Thames 21, a London-based cleanup group, retrieved 5,453 wet wipes in an area next to the Thames the size of half a tennis court.

Last year, one of the largest-ever fatbergs was found in east London. It weighed 130 metric tons—the same as 11 double decker buses—and was more than twice the length of two football pitches.

Thames Water, Greater London’s water utility, said it spends around £1 million a month clearing blockages from its sewers caused by items such as fat, wipes, diapers, cotton buds, sanitary products and condoms.

“That’s an average of three fat related blockages and 4.8 blockages caused by items like wet wipes every hour,” the utility noted.

The UK has taken major steps to fight plastic pollution in recent years, from banning microbeads to restricting plastic bag use. Last month, British Prime Minister Theresa May announced her government is earmarking £61.4 million towards cleaning the world’s oceans of plastics.

‘I saved them because I’m a superhero!’: 4-year-old donates bone marrow to baby brothers

Michael DeMasi Jr.’s little brothers needed a bone-marrow transplant, and when his parents told him that he was a donor match, Michael told them that he wanted to save his brothers and would give them some of his.

WASHINGTON—It was barely sunrise and Michael DeMasi Jr. was romping through the corridors at a children’s hospital in Philadelphia, balancing on a red line that was etched into the floor design and telling his mother to tie a balloon to him so he could “fly.”

The 4-year-old boy fancied himself a real-life superhero, wearing a blue T-shirt with photographs of his 4-month-old twin brothers, who were born with a rare immunodeficiency disease.

Michael’s little brothers — Santino, “Sonny,” and Giovanni, “Gio” — needed a bone-marrow transplant, and when his parents told him that he was a donor match, Michael told them that he wanted to save his brothers and would give them some of his.

“Hey, Michael,” his mother, Robin Pownall, called out as she filmed her young son early one Thursday morning in March, running ahead of her through Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

“Yeaaaah?” he responded, hanging back to let her catch up.

“You ready to go?” his mother asked.

“Yay!” he said, pumping his fists and jumping up and down.

“Where you going?” she asked him.

“To save my baby brothers,” he said.

“To save your baby brothers?” she repeated. “You’re the best.”

The preschooler knew what was about to happen, his mother said: a long needle would be pushed into the bone near his hip to extract the marrow, then the cells would be transplanted into his brothers.

He did it anyway.

And later in the day, when his brothers received the stem-cell infusion, Michael was there to watch, jumping and shouting, “That’s my bone marrow! That’s my bone marrow!” his mother said.

Nearly two months after the procedure, the twins were discharged last week from the hospital. Their mother posted a video on Facebook, showing Michael wearing a superhero T-shirt, smiling and standing between his little brothers.

“I saved you guys,” the preschooler said. “It’s time to go home.”

Santino and Giovanni were born in October with chronic granulomatous disease (CGD), in which the immune system does not work properly, meaning even a common cold could become life-threatening, their mother said. She and her fiancé, Michael DeMasi, were already familiar with the condition. Their oldest son, Dominick, 9, was also born with CGD and they knew it was a possibility that their other children would be born with the disease.

Following his diagnosis only weeks after his birth, Dominick was put on a transplant list and received stem cells from the umbilical cord of a donor. He is now considered cured, his mother said.

When the twins turned out to have CGD, Michael, who was not born with the condition, was tested and found to be a match. His parents talked to their doctors about the risks, such as pain and soreness and complications from anesthesia, then they sat down with Michael and tried to explain.

Michael knew that his little brothers were sick and he knew that they needed bone marrow. He also knew that he had been tested to determine whether he was a match, his mother said.

When his parents told him he was, he exclaimed, “I’m the match? I’m the match?” Pownall recalled.

His parents asked him whether he wanted to go through with the donation.

“We were straight up — ‘It’s going to be a big needle going into your back, bud,’ ” Pownall said she told him. “We asked him, ‘Do you want to do this? If you’re scared, you don’t have to.’ ”

Pownall said her son asked whether his bone marrow would allow his little brothers to come home.

She said yes.

He said OK.

But Pownall said the decision was not simple — she and her fiancé grappled with the option, wondering whether Michael understood what was being asked of him and whether it was right to ask him at all.

“Part of me was like, ‘Well, he’s 4. Maybe he doesn’t know what’s going on.’ But he did, and he was all for it,” she said.

Still, Pownall said, “We were in no way, shape or form going to push anything.” She said that had Michael hesitated or showed reluctance, she and his father would have put the twins on the bone marrow registry. But doctors told them that bone marrow from a matching family member was the best choice. “He was all for it and we had a good feeling about it. It’s amazing — he’s so proud. Such a brave little guy.”

She added that doctors at the hospital sat down with Michael and made sure he understood and that he was OK with it.

Art Caplan, a professor of bioethics and head of the division of medical ethics at the New York University School of Medicine, said situations in which children are the donors do present ethical questions, namely whether a child can truly understand the risks and grant their permission — a principle known as informed consent.

In addition, Caplan said, there may be risks to the donor — pain or other complications, and in instances in which the transplant is not successful, the donor may have to do it again or may begin to blame himself if the donation does not help or the recipient experiences a serious problem. He said that before such procedures are performed, he hopes to see an ethics committee review the circumstances to ensure there are no risks for the donor that the parents may not be considering.

But in general, “I’m inclined to allow it to happen,” he said, assuming that those involved understand and accept the risks.

It’s unclear whether the Children’s Hospital had an ethics committee review Michael’s case. A hospital spokesperson said she could not comment on Michael’s case, and when asked whether the hospital requires an ethics committee to weigh in on situations involving child donors, she said that she could not confirm that either.

On March 8, Michael marched down to the hospital’s patient check-in area.

His mother had told him that he was going to be “a real-life superhero,” and the small boy who loves Captain America as well as Spider-Man, Batman and Superman seemed excited to join their ranks.

The nurse told him that she was going to give him some “giggle juice” and he would go to sleep, his mother recalled.

Then Pownall was taken to a waiting room, where she said she sat anxiously, thinking about her young son. “I thought it was going to be harder on him than it was,” she said.

“He’s so small,” she added. “You don’t want your babies to be in pain.”

Michael woke up with small welts on his back, but insisted he was not in pain, his mother said.

Pownall posted a video after his procedure, showing Michael with blue Popsicle juice all over his face. “I’ve got a blue tongue,” he said, sticking it out for the camera. “Because my Popsicle was blue.”

Hours later, the 4-year-old was jumping up and down, watching his bone marrow go to work.

The children’s aunt wrote on a GoFundMe page that Michael and his brothers were doing well.

“Michael did his procedure this morning for them to take the bone marrow cells,” the post read. “He is perfectly well, playing and all like nothing happened. Giovanni received the bone marrow cells around 2:30 p.m. & then Sonny received the bone marrow cells around 5:30 p.m. Both babies are doing well and sleeping. Now is time for their bodies to heal, with the new bone marrow cells to build up a healthy immune system.”

She posted an update last week, saying the transplants were successful and the twins were home.

Pownall said that now the twins, who are nearly 7 months old, show no signs of chronic granulomatous disease, though their doctors are monitoring them closely.

Michael, for his part, told the Post in a brief, distracted conversation that he felt “good” about helping his brothers.

The Post: “Hi Michael, my name is Lindsey and I’m a reporter.”

Michael: “WHAT?!”

Pownall: “She’s a reporter.”

Michael: “Oh.”

The Post: “Can you tell me what you did for your baby brothers?”

Michael: “I saved them because I’m a superhero!”

The Post: “How did you do that?”

(Michael moves away from the phone)

Pownall: “Michael, what did you give them?”

Michael: “Bone marrow!”

The Post: “Did it make them better?”

Michael: “Yes.”

The Post: “How do you feel about that?”

Michael: “Good.”

The Post: “Are you happy they’re home now?”

Michael: “Yes.”

96-Year-Old Secretary Quietly Amasses Fortune, Then Donates $8.2 Million

Even by the dizzying standards of New York City philanthropy, a recent $6.24 million donation to the Henry Street Settlement on the Lower East Side was a whopper — the largest single gift from an individual to the social service group in its 125-year history.

It was not donated by some billionaire benefactor, but by a frugal legal secretary from Brooklyn who toiled for the same law firm for 67 years until she retired at age 96 and diaed not long afterward in 2016.

Her name was Sylvia Bloom and even her closest friends and relatives had no idea she had amassed a fortune over the decades. She did this by shrewdly observing the investments made by the lawyers she served.

“She was a secretary in an era when they ran their boss’s lives, including their personal investments,” recalled her niece Jane Lockshin. “So when the boss would buy a stock, she would make the purchase for him, and then buy the same stock for herself, but in a smaller amount because she was on a secretary’s salary.”

Since Ms. Bloom never talked about this, even to those closest to her, the fact that she had carefully cultivated more than $9 million among three brokerage houses and 11 banks, emerged only at the end of her life — “an oh my God moment,” said Ms. Lockshin, the executor of Ms. Bloom’s estate.

“I realized she had millions and she had never mentioned a word,” recalled Ms. Lockshin. “I don’t think she thought it was anybody’s business but her own.”

Ms. Bloom’s will allowed for some money to be left to relatives and friends, but directed that the bulk of the fortune go toward scholarships of Ms. Lockshin’s choice for needy students.

Ms. Lockshin, the longstanding treasurer of the settlement’s board, called the group’s executive director, David Garza, and asked him if he was sitting down.

“We were all agape, just blown away,” recalled Mr. Garza, who said the money would endow the settlement’s Expanded Horizons College Success Program, which helps disadvantaged students prepare for and complete college. The gift, made in February, was publicly disclosed last week.

Ms. Bloom joins the ranks of unassuming and magnanimous millionaires next door, who have died with fortunes far larger than their lifestyles ever would have suggested. Like Ms. Bloom, Leonard Gigowski, a shopkeeper from New Berlin, Wis., who died in 2015, left his secret $13 million fortune to fund scholarships. Grace Groner, who lived in a one-bedroom home in Lake Forest, Ill., and directed that her $7 million estate go to her alma mater when she died in 2010 at 100, shopped at thrift stores and chose to walk, not drive.

Donald and Mildred Othmer, who settled in Brooklyn Heights, lived relatively simple lives; he was a professor at Polytechnic University in Brooklyn and she was a former teacher and buyer for her mother’s dress stores. They invested wisely in Berkshire Hathaway, run by a family friend from Omaha, Warren E. Buffett, and died in their 90s with three-quarters of a billion dollars, most of which they donated.

While her aunt’s wealth was a surprise, Ms. Bloom’s quiet plan to help students was not, Ms. Lockshin said.

Ms. Bloom, who never had children of her own, was born to eastern European immigrants and grew up in Brooklyn during the Great Depression. She attended public schools, including Hunter College, where she completed her degree at night while working days to make ends meet.

In 1947 she joined a fledgling Wall Street law firm as one of its first employees. Over her 67 years with the firm, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, it grew to its current size, with more than 1,200 lawyers, as well as hundreds of staff members, of which Ms. Bloom was the longest tenured, said Paul Hyams, a human resources executive for the firm who became good friends with Ms. Bloom over his 35 years working there.

Ms. Bloom’s husband, Raymond Margolies, who died in 2002, was a city firefighter who retired and became a city schoolteacher with a pharmacist career on the side, relatives said. Even when she married, Ms. Bloom kept her name, which was indicative of her independent nature, said a cousin, Flora Mogul Bornstein, 72.

Nearly all the money was in Ms. Bloom’s name alone, Ms. Lockshin said, adding that it was “very possible” that even Mr. Margolies did not know the size of his wife’s fortune.

The couple lived modestly in a rent-controlled apartment, though “she could have lived on Park Avenue if she wanted to,” Mr. Hyams said.

“She was certainly not a spendthrift,” Ms. Lockshin added. “She didn’t have any minks.”

Ms. Bloom was known for always taking the subway to work, even on the morning of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the World Trade Center, not far from the firm’s offices.

That day, Ms. Bloom, at 84, fled north and took refuge in a building before walking over the Brooklyn Bridge and taking a city bus — not a cab — home.

Just before she retired, Mr. Hyams said he saw the 96-year-old Ms. Bloom trudging out of the subway and headed to work in the middle of a fierce snowstorm.

“I said, ‘What are you doing here?’ and she said, ‘Why, where should I be?’” he recalled.

After retiring, Ms. Bloom agreed to move to a senior residence mainly because “she wanted to find a good bridge game,” said Ms. Bornstein, a retired social worker.

To scout them out, and finally to move into one on the Upper West Side, she insisted on taking the subway, Ms. Bornstein said.

Mr. Hyams said Ms. Bloom regretted never going to law school.

Still, he said, he was “completely astounded” to learn of her wealth after her death.

Clarksville military couple adopts twins from terminally ill mother

A Clarksville military couple is set to adopt twins from an expecting mother, who has just months left to live.

Reeve and Andrew Kraszewski have two little girls, 5-year-old Aurdrey and 3-year-old Raelynn, who they previously adopted. Unfortunately, one person is missing from this family; their son Wyatt Samuel Kraszewski.

Wyatt was born with a congenital heart defect. At 18 months old, he caught a virus that spread to his heart. His parents said they found him unresponsive.

“He had passed in his sleep, and he did CPR, but you kind of just know that even though you’re trying your best, that he wasn’t going to make it,” Revee said.

“It’s hard not to think of it, as everything from this point forward has happened because we lost our son,” Andrew said. “It kind of makes everything a little hard to enjoy.”

Instead of giving up, they decided to turn their tragedy into an opportunity to help someone else. They decided to adopt again.

“It’s just kind of something that we can continue to pay it forward for Wyatt,” Andrew said.

Revee met an expectant mother of twins, does not want to be identified, through a mutual friend.

From the beginning, that mother told the couple that doctors gave her less than a year to live due to cystic fibrosis. Doctors said she had less than a 30 percent change of surviving child birth.

“They told her ‘if you get an abortion, we can give you a transplant and you can live longer,’ and she said ‘I’m not going to do that,’” Revee said.

The expectant mother made the choice to sacrifice time off of her life so that her babies could live with a new family.

“To me, that’s amazing,” Revee said. “To know that she would give her life for her children makes me want to be a better mom for my kids and to take care of these twins.”

Revee said doctors are concerned that one of the twins may also have cystic fibrosis. The family will find out soon after a prenatal test called an amniocentesis.

Still, the Kraszewskis said the adoption process is worth it.

“You’re changing a child’s life, and you may be changing the life of that expectant mom, who may have chosen a different route,” Revee said.

Revee and Andrew met with the expectant mother over the weekend and found out the gender of the twins: one boy and one girl. She is due in October.

The family is raising money to help with the adoption through the Both Hands Foundation.

How Portland teenagers are fighting the city’s homeless crisis

Hank Sanders is only 17, but he knows exactly how fortunate he is to have a roof over his head and food to eat.

That’s because once a week, he and 20 to 30 of his classmates at Lincoln High School in Portland, Oregon, have dinner with the area’s homeless youth. First they cook, and then they eat — together.

“It makes you open up your eyes,” Sanders told NBC News. “You are so much more grateful for every single thing that you have, for every dollar that you’re given, for every meal that is on your plate.”

Sanders started the program CardsCook — the school mascot is a cardinal — two years ago as a way to integrate himself and his classmates with Portland’s less fortunate youth. According to officials with Multnomah County, where Portland is, there are at least 700 to 800 homeless teens in the county at any given time, a number indicative of an even larger crisis that the city has been battling for years.

Government officials declared the homeless problem a “state of emergency” three years ago, citing a lack of affordable housing as one of the leading factors.

The concept of CardsCook is simple: Student volunteers get together at a church where they prepare a planned menu of healthy meals that they can make in large quantities. When they’re done cooking, they grab some of the food and join everyone while they eat, talk and play games.

“We play the same video games, we read the same books, we watch the same movies,” Sanders said. “We can relate. So with every single meal, we’re making that connection stronger.

Since it began, CardsCook has served 27,000 meals and raised thousands of dollars for the community. Perhaps their biggest contribution, however, is listening.

“They actually come out and they talk with us and they interact,” said Kyle Pillsbury, a homeless 29-year-old who attends the dinners every week. “It’s humanizing.”

The teachers from Lincoln have also taken up their students’ mission, often joining the dinners to give lessons on everything from drawing and poetry to managing personal finances.

Henry Hooper, the program’s adviser, who spent 30 years in business before becoming a teacher, is inspired by the teens.

“This is unusual,” he said. “That’s a combination of being social entrepreneurs as well as active students. They really want to do something to make a difference, and it’s extraordinary.”

Sanders said he hopes to keep serving meals while working with the city to find long-term solutions to homelessness in Portland.

“There are so many negative connotations that come in people’s heads when they’re looking at homeless people,” Hooper said. “We’ve got to change that. Not just as 15 students, not even as 100 students … we’ve got to change it as a city together.”

Driver casually stops young lady walking. You won’t believe his proposal.

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Find out why this 81-year old grandma is the talk of the town

Challenging the idea that elderly ladies are slow is 81-year-old Michalina Borowczyk-Jędrzeje. The Polish grandmother is the proud owner of a 2016 Subaru WRX STI, a car that she enjoys taking out for a spin every single day. Photographs and video clips of her driving the cool sports car have gone viral online, much to the amusement of younger Polish residents.

Speaking to the media, Michalina revealed that she’s been passionate about fast cars since childhood. And now that she’s retired, she has plenty of time to drive around town in her favorite car. Some reports have suggested that the Subaru isn’t Michalina’s first car – she has apparently owned several Opels, a BMW, a Mazda, and a Honda before this. But Subaru has always been her favorite, and she saved up for 13 years before she could finally afford the €46,000 ($50,285) car. “I love the sound of its engine,” she said. “It purrs, it is a pleasure. This car has a soul, a heart, and unlike other cars, it got me hooked.”

Michalina, a resident of Katowice, often takes her cars for rides to other cities as well as Czestochowa, Krakow, and Wroclaw. She manages to put in 6,000 to 9,000 miles of driving a year, which is not bad at all considering her age. Of course, maintaining these cars isn’t exactly cheap, but the savings from her investments and rent from her inherited properties do help to keep her expensive hobby going.

This story just goes to show you that you don’t need to stop having fun just because you’re older. If an 81-year-old lady can drive a 300 hp Subaru WRX, I can definitely keep playing video games without worrying people may think I’m immature. Thanks, Michalina! Oh, and I love your driving gloves.

Zistite, prečo je táto 81-ročná babička hovorí o meste

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Zistite, prečo je táto 81-ročná babička hovorí o meste

Spochybnenie myšlienky, že staršie dámy sú pomalé, je 81-ročná Michalina Borowczyk-Jędrzeje. Poľská babička je hrdým majiteľom vozu Subaru WRX STI 2016, čo je auto, ktoré si každý deň vychutnáva. Fotografie a videoklipy, ktoré riadila chladné športové auto, sa odohrali vírusom online, veľa na pobavenie mladších poľských obyvateľov.

Michalina odprezentovala svojim médiám, že od detstva je veľmi vášnivá rýchlymi autami. A teraz, keď je v dôchodku, má dostatok času na to, aby v meste prechádzala svojim obľúbeným autom. Niektoré správy naznačujú, že Subaru nie je prvým vozidlom Michaliny – predtým mala vlastne niekoľko Opel, BMW, Mazda a Honda. Subaru bola však vždy jej obľúbená a 13 rokov ju zachránila predtým, než mohla konečne dovoliť vozidlo s hodnotou 46 000 eur (50 285 eur). “Milujem zvuk jeho motora,” povedala. “Je to potešenie. Toto auto má dušu, srdce a na rozdiel od ostatných automobilov ma to dostalo. ”

Michalina, obyvateľka mesta Katovice, často odváža svoje autá do iných miest, ako aj Czestochowa, Krakov a Vroclav. Dokáže dokázať až 6 000 až 9 000 míľ jazdy za rok, čo vôbec nie je zlé vzhľadom na jej vek. Samozrejme, údržba týchto vozidiel nie je úplne lacná, ale úspory z jej investícií a nájomného z jej zdedených nehnuteľností pomáhajú udržať jej nákladné hobby.

Tento príbeh vám ukáže, že nemusíte prestať baviť len preto, že ste starší. Ak 81-ročná dáma môže riadiť Subaru WRX s výkonom 300 koní, môžem rozhodne pokračovať v hraní videohier bez toho, aby som sa bála, že ľudia si môžu myslieť, že som nezrelá. Vďaka Michaline! Oh, a mám rád svoje ručné rukavice.

Warren Buffet Will Donate 90 Million To People Of Color

A Buffett family foundation will devote $90 million to supporting girls of color

The NoVo Foundation is making a big commitment.Image: alex wong/Getty Images
By Emma Hinchliffe2017-04-13 15:55:47 UTC

Warren Buffett does most of his philanthropic giving through the Bill Melinda Gates Foundation — eradicating diseases and supporting communities in the developing world. 
A new philanthropic endeavor from Buffett’s son is bringing that giving closer to home. The NoVo Foundation, established by the Omaha billionaire as a charitable trust, will devote $90 million over the next seven years to support young women and girls of color in the United States. 

Peter Buffett and his wife Jennifer Buffett, will distribute the $90 million through the NoVo Foundation. The foundation, which works on advancing adolescent girls’ rights, ending violence against girls and women, helping local economies, supporting Indigenous communities, and researching social and emotional learning, first announced its $90 million commitment a year ago. 
Since then, the nonprofit has talked to advocates and communities about how to ensure the funding is put to its best use. In practice, the money will go to community-based organizations, to communities in the Southeast, and to policy and research groups working on issues related to the lives of women and girls of color. The foundation expects to award about $13 million in its first year. 

The influx of funding for initiatives in the Southeast could be a big deal, since the foundation chose the region after seeing it had often been ignored by philanthropy. 
Community groups, local organizers, and advocates on the policy side can all apply for grants over the next few weeks. 

WATCH: This device can help 22 million Americans sleep better at night

Restoring sight to over 4M people: Eye surgeons Sanduk Ruit and Geoff Tabin, along with the doctors they’ve trained, have helped restore sight to over 4 million people and aren’t finished yet

The doctors were “gods” to an old, blind Burmese woman whose sight was restored by a quick operation.  Cataracts had stolen her sight for years, while others had been blind for decades – before the simple operation allowed them to see again. Bill Whitaker reports from Burma, also known as Myanmar, where two eye surgeons were bringing their program that has already reversed blindness in over 4 million people and could help to eliminate cataract and other reversible blindness in the developing world.  “Out of Darkness” will be broadcast on 60 Minutes at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

“Hallelujah!” shouts the old woman as the bandages are removed.  Her surgeons, Drs. Sanduk Ruit and Geoff Tabin look on and assure her they are not gods.  But they are miracle workers to the sightless in Burma and their plan has already changed the lives of millions more blind people throughout the world.

Dr. Ruit, a Nepalese eye surgeon, had been restoring the sight of cataract suffers using a technique that requires no stitches.  He met Dr. Tabin, an American eye surgeon and world-renowned mountain climber, and they created the Himalayan Cataract Project. Their revolutionary system goes beyond the surgery. They started a lens factory that produces implants for a fraction of the cost in the U.S. and they have a hospital in Nepal that has trained hundreds of doctors and nurses in their technique. During their visit to Burma, they were able to perform more surgeries in three days than are usually done in a year. They left behind a Burmese team trained in their techniques to carry on the work.

Their focus was originally in the Himalayas, but they have been so successful they renamed their group They’ve operated in two dozen countries, including North Korea and Ethiopia, restoring sight to 150,000 people.  The doctors they’ve trained have given vision to 4 million others. It’s the developing world, but people are getting first-rate treatment says Dr. Tabin  “For these advanced cataracts, I’m performing the same quality of surgery that I would be doing in America.” Tabin is currently a professor at the University of Utah Medical School in Salt Lake City.

Their surgical outcomes have been peer-reviewed by the leading American journal for eye doctors.

And as Dr. Tabin points out, they are doing more than restoring sight.  “You know, once someone goes blind in a developing world, their life expectancy is about one-third that of age and health matched peers,” he says.  “And also in the developing world, it takes, often, a person out of the work force, or a child out of school, to care for the blind person. So when we restore sight to a blind person, we’re freeing up their family and restoring their life,” Tabin tells Whitaker.

This shuttle bus will serve people with vision, hearing, and physical impairments and drive itself

The current interior of the Olli bus. Manufacturer Local Motors and IBM are developing assistive technologies to add to the next generation of the vehicle.

It’s been 15 years since a degenerative eye disease forced Erich Manser to stop driving. Today, he commutes to his job as an accessibility consultant via commuter trains and city buses, but he has trouble locating empty seats sometimes and must ask strangers for guidance.
A step toward solving Manser’s predicament could arrive as soon as next year. Manser’s employer, IBM, and an independent carmaker called Local Motors are developing a self-driving, electric shuttle bus that combines artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and smartphone apps to serve people with vision, hearing, physical, and cognitive disabilities. The buses, dubbed “Olli,” are designed to transport people around neighborhoods at speeds below 35 miles per hour and will be sold to cities, counties, airports, companies, and universities. If the buses enter production in summer 2018, as planned, they could be among the earliest self-driving vehicles on U.S. roads.Since Olli is fully autonomous and does not have a human driver, it uses IBM’s AI-powered Watson technology to converse with passengers (via voice and text displayed on an iPad). Olli navigates using radar, lidar, and optical cameras from a company called Meridian Autonomous. Before deploying in a neighborhood, Meridian Autonomous constructs 3-D maps of the area that Local Motors says are accurate to the half-inch. A human fleet manager then determines the bus route. When Olli detects an emergency via its various sensors, it will stop, notify a (human) remote supervisor, and independently run through a checklist of possible problems. “If a passenger has a medical problem or [there’s a safety issue], Olli will call the authorities or drive itself to a hospital or police station,” says Gina O’Connell, a Local Motors general manager who is leading the project.

Local Motors and IBM started collaborating on Olli in early 2016 and produced a first iteration of the bus in June 2016. That vehicle is currently in trials in Germany and Switzerland. It is the next—second—generation of Olli that will include assistive technologies. That version, which the companies call “Accessible Olli,” will be manufactured starting in 2018, and will retain Watson as a tool for communicating with passengers and add additional Watson features.Local Motors and IBM are still testing technologies, but have already identified some capabilities they are likely to add. Future Ollis, for example, might direct visually impaired passengers to empty seats using machine vision to identify open spots, and audio cues and a mobile app to direct the passenger. Olli could also guide passengers via a special type of haptic feedback that uses ultrasound to project sensations through the air. An array of haptic sensors could be designed into every seat, and when people walk down the aisle they would feel a vibration on their hand or arm to alert them that they were at an empty seat, explains Drew LaHart, the program director for IBM’s accessibility division. For hearing-impaired people, the buses could employ machine vision and augmented reality to read and speak sign language via onboard screens or passengers’ smartphones. LaHart says that Olli could be trained to recognize sign language using machine learning and Watson’s image recognition capabilities. If the bus were equipped with AR technology, it might be able to respond via a hologram of a person signing.Machine vision could also enable Olli to recognize passengers waiting at bus stops who have walkers and wheelchairs. The bus would then activate an automated ramp to help them board and then deploy equipment that would secure their assistive devices, locking a wheelchair into place, for example.
Another potential Olli technology combines machine vision and sensors to detect when passengers leave items under their seats and issues alerts so the possessions can be retrieved, a feature meant to benefit people with age-related dementia and other cognitive disabilities.This would all be a significant improvement over the typical bus accommodations of today, which are limited to wheelchair ramps and lifts and audible and visual bus route updates. Local Motors, IBM, and the CTA Foundation, the charitable arm of the Consumer Technology Association, a trade group for the consumer electronics industry, and a partner in Accessible Olli, have spent the past three months soliciting ideas from disability rights organizations and retirement communities, among others. Manser, who works for IBM Accessibility, has organized a workshop with blindness organizations and public transit agencies and attended an MIT assistive technologies hackathon in March to explain the challenges he encounters on public transportation.Local Motors plans to keep soliciting public input for several more months. In July, it will devise an engineering plan for the new version of Olli, select suppliers, and calculate the cost of fabricating the bus. It aims to sell the vehicle for about $250,000 and will also offer a leasing-subscription service that would cost $10,000 to $12,000 a month and include hardware upgrades. Because Olli is mostly manufactured on-demand, through 3-D printing, its design can be tweaked quickly in response to user feedback, says O’Connell.The company expects public transportation operators will be its main customers and hopes that cities will buy the buses to fill in gaps in their regular transit systems and not just as paratransit vehicles for disabled people.For those with disabilities, though, Olli could be a big improvement over the current options.  Door-to-door paratransit service tends to be slow, has to be scheduled ahead of time, and is only available to people who qualify for it, says Henry Claypool, who is the policy director of the Community Living Policy Center at the University of California, San Francisco, and a wheelchair user. “It’s much more reliable to be able to get on and off a bus at the same place and have a predictable schedule, especially if the bus has this type of assistive technology,” he says.Olli offers a way to address important limitations of public bus and train systems as well, says Susan Henderson, the executive director of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund. The Americans with Disabilities Act mandates only that “key” train and subway stations be accessible, which means that people with wheelchairs, walkers, and scooters often have to travel several stops out of their way to get home or to a destination, says Henderson. “If I still had 10 blocks to go after getting off at my local station, having an Olli rolling around my neighborhood would make a big difference,” she says.