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Welcome to the brain gym

Posted By ISRAEL21c Staff On February 1, 2004 @ 10:00 pm In | No Comments

Cognifit’s first commercial product for driver fitness, called Drivefit, was aimed at the elderly, but the most popular model has turned out to be a program for younger drivers, which is being used by major international driving schools.We all worry about keeping our bodies in good condition, but Israeli start-up Cognifit is focusing on developing a different kind of workout – one that keeps our minds in shape.

“Our products essentially complement what we do at the gym. We want to convince people – particularly older people – that their minds need to be maintained just like their bodies,” Professor Shlomo Breznitz, president of the company, told ISRAEL21c.

CogniFit creates state-of-the-art applications that assess, train and enhance cognitive and psychomotor abilities. It does so by combining the latest discoveries and most up-to-date knowledge about the human brain with advanced technology and communication techniques.
CogniFit’s goal is to become a world leader in developing, maintaining and marketing its series of unique applications in the field of cognitive and psychomotor fitness.

The company is developing a suite of products to be used on any personal computer that will significantly enhance the quality of life among its users by offering the user a personalized training system. This training system will continuously adapt itself to the user’s needs and progress.

Cognifit is the brainchild of Breznitz, former president and rector of Haifa University and one of the most prominent psychology researchers in Israel.

He had been toying with the idea of a ‘brain gym’ for more than 20 years, focusing on the concept of developing a program for improving cognitive performance, particularly among older people.

Five years ago, he retired from the academic world and concentrated exclusively on his idea in a small business incubator in the Tzipori industrial area in the Galilee.

“Two factors fell into place which made it clear that the time was right to develop my idea,” says Breznitz. “First were the scientific breakthroughs in brain imaging, which proved that it was possible to improve brain function. The second was the availability of personal computers, which meant that people would be able to do their ‘brain workout’ from their home.”

The company, which began in a tiny office with a handful of employees, has picked up momentum, now employing 27 workers.

When he came up with the concept, Breznitz’s original goal was to create a product that would improve quality of life for the elderly. But the company’s CEO, Amicai Bar-Nir, 36, targeted the company’s first market niche and made that improvement more specific: driver training.

Statistics show that drivers over the age of 60 are involved in more road accidents overall, as well as a large percentage of more severe accidents, together with young drivers aged 17-20.

Cognifit’s first commercial product for driver fitness, called Drivefit, has a model aimed at the elderl. But it’s turned out that the most popular model is a program for younger drivers, which is being used by major international driving schools.

“We intended to market our product to the elderly and we found ourselves marketing to young people and that is how we developed our program for the assessment and improvement of cognitive skills for learning driving,” says Bar-Nir.

DriveFit is a powerful and sophisticated program that presents a scientifically proven way for enhancing driving skills and abilities. Based on extensive testing conducted by leading psychologists, DriveFit training clearly revives and boosts the various mental processes associated with driving. Designed for use on computers, DriveFit uniquely adapts itself to the user’s specific strengths and weaknesses.

DriveFit is composed of assessment and training sections. In the assessment section, participants perform a series of tasks associated with the various skills employed in driving such as reaction time, short-term memory, visual search and others. On the basis of the evaluation, the training section develops a program that enables users to practice the specific skills that need improving. At the end of each task, the purpose of the task and its relevance to driving are described and a graph visually depicts the results.

The program has already been exported successfully to England, France, Germany, Spain, Poland, the United States and Canada.

The British School of Motoring – among the largest driving schools in the world which trains more than 200,000 students each year – has integrated Drivefit into its program, and more than 40,000 British driving students have already improved their thinking and driving ability through its use. Research found that the students using the program improved their chances of passing their first driving test by 30 percent, and Cognifit recently received a prize from the British royalty on is contribution to road safety, by introducing this new element into driver training.

Recently, DriveFit was adopted by the Young Drivers of Canada: the largest driving school in North America for training new drivers. The company, founded in 1970, has over 100 centers throughout Canada and they train about 48,000 students each year. Young Drivers, owned by the Ford company, is dedicated to driver safety and provides students and parents with the highest level of driving training.

The programs that are exported to each country are not cookie-cutter – they are designed to meet the specific needs of each customer and each use. Currently, the company is also developing products for training professional truck and bus drivers.

Breznitz is still determined to make sure that his product eventually reaches the population of older drivers.

“The problem of elderly people and deteriorating driving skills is becoming a problem all over the western world, particularly in the U.S. On one hand, the public safety needs to be protected, on the other, governments don’t want to deny elderly drivers their independence, particularly those who live in suburbia and are completely dependent on their ability to drive.”

At the same time, the company is continuing to develop products for other uses as well.

“As far as we are concerned, exports will continue to grow and the sky is the limit for the products we are developing,” says Breznitz.

Future directions include both a product for healthy elderly people called Mindfit, which the company expects to have ready for the English-speaking market in two months.

The company is also about to begin developing a product for those in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, which it is developing in cooperation with a company in Great Britain.

In the future, they hope to develop products for children that enhance cognitive skills – both for healthy children and those suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder and other learning disabilities.


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