Northwest Florida Roundup
Bay County high school students Henry Jiang and Walker Verenakis have created a prototype aid for the visually impaired. Both seniors at North Bay Haven Charter Academy in Panama City, the two have invented a digital ultrasound walking cane.
The device includes five ultrasonic sensor rays that point in different directions to sense objects nearby or far away. The user is alerted through sensors and motors that detect objects and send strong or weak vibrations to the hand depending on the object's proximity.
Verenakis says his father, who is visually impaired, inspired him to create a device that could help other visually impaired people. “My dad gave a lot of practical applications for it, and his input helped us a lot,” he says. “We initially thought about creating glasses or gloves with the same features, but it was easier said than done. Even though we had a lot of limitations with this prototype, overall we’ve been able to get everything for it to come together.”
Jiang says plans are in the works to pursue a business concept with their device. “This design is patent-pending right now, and we don’t think there’s anything exactly like this model that uses sensors to convert signals into something you can feel,” he says.
- Pepsi and Dr Pepper bottler Buffalo Rock plans to build a $35-million distribution center on 47 acres at the Northwest Florida Industrial Park near Milton in Santa Rosa County. Based in Birmingham, Ala., Buffalo Rock says the new facility is expected to bring 350 to 400 jobs to the area. The company, county officials say, met enough economic impact criteria to qualify for a 100% discount of the estimated $4 million purchase price.
- Bay County’s residential housing starts remain strong as county officials have approved another large expansion of Latitude Margaritaville Watersound. Developed by the St. Joe Co., Minto Communities and Margaritaville Holdings, the development is geared toward residents at least age 55. This most recent expansion will bring the total number of lots in the Margaritaville community to more than 1,200, all of which are in varying stages of development or completion.
- The West Fraser-Perry sawmill in Taylor County will shut down because of high wood costs and a softening lumber market, the company says. The move will impact 126 employees and affect several local businesses dependent on the mill’s operation. Parent-company West Fraser is based in British Columbia.
- The St. Joe Community Foundation donated more than $5.3 million in 2022 to several community service organizations in Bay County. The grant total is the largest in the foundation’s 24-year history. The grants were awarded to a wide range of non-profits that include support for teachers, literacy programs, cultural arts sponsorships and bedding and other essentials for underprivileged children. The foundation was created in 1999 by the St. Joe Co., a large developer of residential housing and commercial office space in Bay and Walton counties.
- Pensacola's tourism industry had another record-setting year in 2022. A recent industry tracking study reported 2.5 million visitors to the Pensacola area during the past fiscal year who spent $1.3 billion and generated more than $21.8 million in Escambia County’s tax revenue. Both figures were record increases.