Nazir Akbar Ali, 61, electrical engineer

Posted: February 15, 2005

Nazir Akbar Ali, 61, of Malvern, an electrical engineer who spent his career perfecting a device to improve mobility and independence for the blind, died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis on Feb. 2 at Paoli Memorial Hospital.

In the 1960s, Mr. Ali went to work for Bionic Instruments, which had invented the LaserCane for the blind using infrared technology. By 1970, he had became the lead developer of the cane, and in 1978 he founded his own company, now called Nurion-Raycal, to continue the work.

Mr. Ali modified the original design to create a lightweight aluminum cane that emits tones that detect obstacles at up to 12 feet. He developed similar devices to be attached to wheelchairs and to be worn around the neck. In addition to emitting tones, the three products vibrate to warn of obstacles, a feature designed for blind people who are deaf and for environments in which noises are not appropriate.

Though the canes sold for more than $2,000 each, Mr. Ali had a waiting list of people wanting to buy them, but he lacked the capital to produce more than a few hundred.

In recent years, he had been awarded grants that enabled him to redesign the cane using modern electronics and provided the capital for him to market and mass-produce the device.

A native of Iraq, Mr. Ali emigrated to the United States at 18 and earned a bachelor's degree from Spring Garden College. In 1972, he and Lois Loveridge were married. While their two sons, Anwar and Laith, were growing up, Mr. Ali coached soccer teams for the Greater Chester Valley Soccer Association and the Delco Soccer League, and he was later a soccer referee. Anwar Ali said his father was also an NHL hockey enthusiast.

In addition to his wife and sons, Mr. Ali is survived by a brother.

The funeral service and burial were private.

Memorial donations may be made to ALS Association of Greater Philadelphia, 321 Norristown Rd., Ambler, Pa. 19002.

Contact staff writer Sally A. Downey at 215-854-2913 or sdowney@phillynews.com.

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