Thursday, October 31, 2013

Revisiting TADQ


It was time to check again with TADQ. So, I packed up my Makey-Makey kit and 'home-made' basic game controller and went there. I was really glad that my application has been processed and now I am ready to volunteer for TADQ! I was lucky enough to meet their Occupational Therapist (OT) and a technician who is a volunteer. Firstly, I demonstrated my game controller by playing a car racing game from my laptop. They liked the idea of using beer lids and low cost material and also seemed to be highly interested in Makey-Makey kit. This controller required very low pressure to activate the buttons which was a favourable factor in developing devices for the people with motor disabilities (MDs).

The OT suggested possible avenues to explore in improving communications of the disabled people.

  • A controller to navigate a media/DVD player without using a keyguard for a keyboard. Keyguard is a keyboard shaped board with holes for each key which supports a person with low motor skills to control his/her finger movements better with high accuracy. However, these keyguards are highly costly and need to be custom made for each individual which can incur a higher cost. Both OT and technician suggested that my game controller can be customized to achieve this.
  • A keyguard for a QWERTY keyboard
    Source: http://www.dyslexic.com

  • Word prediction software for computers, tablets and phones. Aim of this is to aid people with motor disabilities to type faster and accurately. Currently, the available software is not much accurate in achieving this and they are expensive to purchase.
  • An application and a device to turn pages in an iBook for a person who is using a tablet PC. Some people like to read eBooks as they cannot turn pages in physical books. However, using keyboard or touchpad is equally tiresome for such a person. Therefore more simple solution is required to achieve this. There is a solution for this from Spectronics called J-Pad that works with iPad, iPod Touch and iPhone using Bluetooth connectivity (http://www.spectronicsinoz.com/product/j-pad-wireless-joystick-for-ipad). However, this is highly expensive to be afforded by a single person ($459.00) like many assistive devices in the market. Therefore, OT suggested that using Makey-Makey will be a great idea instead of using these types of high end devices.

  • Compatibility with Apple Mac and iPad. They suggested that Apple has more accessibility features than some other platforms. However, it is still difficult for a person with MDs to access them using touch based interfaces or keyboard. Therefore, new and simple solutions are required like the controller I have proposed. They noted that this can be a highly fruitful research avenue.
  • There are number of software tools which can assist the people with MDs in the level of opening and closing a particular application especially on tablet PCs. However, there are limited number of tools to assist them in operating inside a given software application. Developing software to assist this functionality can be highly useful.

There are certain issues and factors to be considered when developing these technologies. The OT noted that spreading of saliva on the controller by the disabled person can be both hygienic and technical issue. This affects specially for Makey-Makey as it is based on conductive materials. Saliva can cause short circuiting and affect the functionality of the controller. She also said that dribbling of fingers is a main issue for people with MDs. While some people need to use low pressure keys, some have issues with shifting from one position to another or with repeated presses which cannot be solved by disabling repeat key function in the PC. Layout of the buttons is also an important aspect since different persons have different orientations. My game controller scored '0' in the aspect of flexibility in placement of buttons as they are fixed to the board using screws!

It will be great if we can use as minimum number of wires as possible to reduce the bulky and messy nature of the device. Wireless connectivity is an ideal way to achieve this target. My set-up included number of wires from controller to the circuit. However, the technician pointed out that it is possible to use a single container for all wires and hide them in a package so the person who uses it do not get confused and not be troubled with wires hanging out! The OT stated that it is wise to start with single or dual button setup if we pursue with the games. The game also should be simple with minimum number of tasks where the person can enjoy without much effort. These games should be customized to accommodate different intellectual levels of the people with disabilities.

Their technician noted that concerning on the hardware aspects is as equally important as the software when developing technologies for the disabled. Poorly designed controller can ruin the value of a software application that can be highly useful for a disabled person. As an example carefully designed media player will be useless if the person cannot control it using the standard keyboard. He also seemed to be interested in a case where a client requested to build a tool to control a DVD player on Apple Mac. He stated that this tool will be developed as an 'add-on' to the Mac instead of replacing the keyboard. Makey-Makey seemed to be a promising starting point for this project. I also requested them to count me in for this project! 

The bottom-line of the discussion is that we cannot build a general version of technology to assist a certain group of disabled people. Requirements of one person vary significantly from another. Therefore, it is highly important to make customizable devices or ones that are tailored to an individual. Makey-Makey offers this flexibility to a considerable level which makes it a highly suitable candidate in developing ATs for the people with MDs. 

On my long bus ride back to city, I was wondering about the number of different aspects we need to consider when developing technologies for the disabled. Most of which I couldn't have unravelled if I did not visit TADQ!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Playing with the Makey-Makey

I have mentioned about the Makey-Makey kit couple of times in my past blog posts. I will describe it little further as I have used it to build a new controller. In Makey-Makey, a circuit is used to map number of computer keyboard keys where a person need to ground the kit through his/her body where he/she can tap on any conductive material which is connected to the Makey-Makey kit to emulate a given key [1]. This conductive material can be any day-to-day object (like an apple, metal lid, water, soil, etc.) which has even a little amount of conductivity. When a person who is grounded taps on a conductive material a circuit is completed and a signal is sent to computer to emulate the associated key. Makey-Makey circuit is connected to the computer through a USB connection and no special software or programming is required. There is no requirement to solder these materials to the circuit as they can be plugged in using crocodile clips. Therefore, it allows designers more higher degree of freedom to design assistive technologies.
 
Basic configuration of Makey-Makey [1]

I have realized that there are few main factors we need to look at when developing technologies for the disabled who specially lives in remote areas:
  • They need to be easily designed as it will be easier to engage the target population in the designing process which will provide a sense of control for them.
  • They need to be of low cost as it will be difficult for people in remote villages to acquire high end devices which are highly costly in the market.
  • They should enjoyable to use. Most of the state-of-the-art technologies have bulky set-ups which require number of circuits, wires, sensors, etc. and not so pleasent to use!
  • They should be flexible to use. A person with motor disabilities could not operate traditional computer controllers with freedom as their positions are mostly static. It is important that they can place their controllers as they wish in the physical space.
I have tried to adhere to these guidelines as much as possible in developing this controller. I thought of building a game controller with few buttons to play a racing game. Generally to build such a controller we need to purchase buttons specially designed for the disabled. They usually costs about 60 USD on average. So, to build a controller with 6 buttons the cost will be around 240 USD alone for the buttons. Therefore, alternatives are required to be used as buttons. I thought that attaching the buttons to a 'lapboard' would be a good idea. Instead of purchasing a standard lapboard, I decided to use something that we use every day.

Buttons - I realized they need to be large in size and shold be operated by applying minimum pressure. A conductive metal piece will be ideal as I can use it with the Maky-Makey which can be opertaed by a mere touch. I visted few hardware stores around Brisbane to find these 'buttons'. The closest I got was a metal door lid which I thought little too heavy to be used. Then while having a soft drink at a restaurent I wondered 'I miss those soft drinks bottles with lids from my home country'. "lids" - metal lids! Yeah, they will be perfect. Then I visited some bars around the city to collect some metal lids only to find that they don't keep them after removal. So, I decided to order them online from a shop in Melbourne. Just the lids - no bottles! Instead of smaller lids I decided to purchase larger lids (37mm diameter) which are used for large growler bottles. I only had to pay 8 AUD for a dozen of them plus the shipping cost. Then, I had to remove the white paint on top the lid to make it conductive. We have our buttons!

Growler lids used as buttons
Source: http://www.liquorcraft.com.au




Lapboard - I initially thought I can use a plastic lid of a lunch box. So, I went to a supermarket to buy couple of boxes when I came across these photo frames. 'I can use the supporting hardboard of these frames' was the thought. And bought couple of them for 3 AUD each.

I atatched these lids to the hardboard from the photo frame using screws. 6 lids were used to map Arrow keys (4), Escape key and Enter key. Then, I atatched the wires from Makey-Makey to the screws from the bottom. There we go - a game controller! Let's calculate the cost. 4 AUD for lids, 3 AUD for the hardboard, 52 AUD for Makey-Makey kit and around 1 AUD for screws, which gives us a total of 60 AUD. This is the average price of a single button developed for the disabled in the market. Although these lids might be aesthetically unpleasing, they do the same task and it is always possible to make improvements. I am listing down some of the pictures I took during the designing.

Lids, hradboard and other tools used

Fixing a lid to the board
Finished button layout

Makey-Makey kit
Board and Makey-Makey connected

However, I found that Makey-Makey does not have default mappings for Escape and Enter keys. So, I will have to re-program the circuit to achive this. Nevertheless, it was possible to use this controller to play Need for Speed Most Wanted (as shown in the video below). All I had to do was plug the kit to my laptop and enjoy the game! Ground wire from the kit was attached to a metalic wrist watch.

video

Now, one might ask why not use the keyboard itself. I feel this new controller is interesting to use rather than a standard keyboard. It is made of day-to-day objects which can enhance the aspect of 'fun' and it can be easily developed by any person wthout any programming knowledge. However, I admit that the flexibility is somewhat low in this controller as the buttons are fixed using screws. I feel this can be a starting point where I can add more modification to enhance usability aspects.

Notes:
[1] Silver, J., Rosenbaum, E., & Shaw, D. (2012). Makey Makey: improvising tangible and nature-based user interfaces. In Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Tangible, Embedded and Embodied Interaction (pp. 367–370).

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Twist in the Path - Volunteering with TADQ

While searching for literature and possible contacts me and Margot came across TADQ - Technology Aids to the Disabled, Qld Inc which is a is a not-for-profit organisation and registered charity that provide technical support and solutions for people with disabilities and the frail aged in Queensland. Margot said "Oh! This looks really interesting. Why don't you try and contact them." So I did. The result was wonderful. I met their development officer on 16th September at their main office at Banyo, QLD. It was such a fruitful meeting.

TADQ strive to provide people with disabilities and frail aged with affordable assistive devices in a wide range - winches, toilet steps, fold-down shower seats, writing aids, bike modifications, slope boards, communication devices and sensory dens and more. They seek the help of volunteers to achieve develop these aids. These volunteers come from all over QLD representing diverse backgrounds such as building products, engineering, design, software design, promotion and web design. Most volunteers work from their own homes and in their own time on customized and dedicated projects for specific group or a single client. It seemed to me that their and my final targets are the same although mine is more towards enhancement of communication technologies - providing the disabled with easy to use and affordable assistive technologies.


I learned that TADQ works with a strong client base in QLD for whom they develop diverse technical aids. They also have the service of an Occupational Therapist (OT) who share her expertise on people with disabilities. There are number of technical volunteers working on number of projects and few of them are fond of social networking and gaming aspects. The development officer told me that networking of people with similar interests in this area is the cornerstone of building effective aids.  I also think engaging with these personnel will help me immensely to come up with an effective solution to enhance communications of the disabled people.

All the people at TADQ were very excited about the Makey-Makey kit as I have mentioned it in my emails. These days I am planning to develop a simple controller which can be attached to it that can emulate arrow keys and Enter key. My aim is to develop a simple game which can be played by two people using this controller. They really liked the idea and encouraged me to work on it. I hope I can develop this idea in to a more usable and generalizable technology with the help of TADQ. We wound up the session with a brief site tour on which I noticed that they also have a well equipped workshop to design and develop these aids.

I received set of applications to fill-out to be a volunteer for TADQ which will be an interesting experience for me. I will have the opportunity to work closely with people who are experts in the field and make a real contribution for the disabled community. Strong network which TADQ maintain will certainly help me to make my contribution worthwhile. Now at this moment I am going through this application filled with positive feelings...

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A Chat with an Innovator

I have been lucky to have another interesting chat with an inspiring person - Brett Paulson. He currently works as a computer modeller at the CSIRO. Being a quadreplegic his aims was not only to conquer the routine but to win the street which he has achieved successfully by developing a scooter! This scooter can be controlled by a quadriplegic person who is in a wheelchair. A ramp equipped sidecar provide the access to a wheelchair. Person can controll the scooter from this sidecar as all the controlls are mapped to it. He also maintains a website about sidecar and similar outfits:

I asked him about the development of this scooter. He has used his knowledge in mathematics and computer science to good effect with the help of his mates. I thought this would have been a industry oreinted technical approach. But, he said that it was more of an informal effort amongst the friends. He said they did not recieve any technological assistance from known technological bodies. This notion seems to be interesting as the control of the design entirly lies with the user of the device.

Brett with his scooter
Source: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/innovationchallenge/scooter-helps-the-disabled-get-back-on-the-road-again/story-fn9dkrp5-1226513854352


Since my project deals with social networking and gaming aspects, I asked him if he is a frequent user of social networking sites or games. Surprisingly, he was not an enthusiast of those, although he uses email to good efefct to communicate. He mentioned that level of usage of such technologies vary highly upon the personal flavors of each person. As an example a disabled person may rely highly on video games to keep communications whereas another person is quite happy using email and/or telephone to maintain his social network.

He had some useful suggestions for my project also. According to him brainstorming sessions with the users of technology is highly important to get a proper understanding of the background. However, in my case it is difficult to do this as it is almost impossible at this stage to contact the target group because of the distance and cost. Therefore, a feasible solution would be to develop some design based on the literature and showcase it to the target group to recieve theri feedback. Then, it will be possible to make any changes to the design or in fact methodology. Brett noted that there are disabled people who are not aware of the options available. If they get to know them they might "want" to explore them. He said that making this awareness is an essential part of this kind of an endeavour.

Another important thing he mentioned is that it is a good practice to provide more control over design process to the people who will be using the technology as it encompassses sense of security amongst them. Simply: "I am going to use this. Let me build it my own way!". There are some highend designer kits available nowadays like Makey-Makey. However, it is still questionable that if they can be used from the scratch by a person with a disability. My opinion is that a designer is required to minimize the configurations done by the user once the technology is in place. Therefore, I beleive 'something' should be developed which then can be put in to the real context. Designer's task is to increase the flexibility of usage.

He noted that since my project focusses on the area of Groote Eylandt, I may be able to recieve support from engineers who are working in Manganese mines nearby. However, I doubt if they posses the expertise or more importantly time I might require in developing communication technologies. He suggested that tablet computers can be used to a good effect as they are highly popular devices amongst the disabled. He himslef an admirer of his own tablet PC. He mentioned that they are portable, lightweight and possess intuitive interfaces which aid them to communicate easily with minimal limb movements.

It was an inspiring chat with Brett which revealed number of unseen insights. A very big thank you goes to Brett in dedicating his time and effort to have a chat with us - my supervisor also joined! He was kind enough to show us his scooter which he parked at the entrance to the City Botanic Gardens. We had a nice walk with an inspiring character across the garden...

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Chat with a Social Worker - 'Gaming is Your Ticket'

I had a fascinating Skype chat with the Editor-in-Chief of AbleGamers foundation, USA. It is a charity organization which aims to improve the accessibility of games for the disabled people. A special thanks to him who dedicated his valuable time to have a chat with me and on giving permission to share his ideas on this blog. He has unveiled interesting insights that otherwise I would never have come across!!!

I will start with few strong remarks he made with regard to working with disabled people.

You are dealing with people not toys. So respect them
He stated that whatever the research which involves disable people should have clearly visible benefits for them. He said that these benefits need to be quick in nature, rather than coming up with some product after 10 years from the publication of some theory!

Online gaming is your ticket to engage the disabled
He stated while gaming is a promising aspect to engage disabled in communication activities, online gaming can improve the 'social' aspect of such communications.

Whatever that you develop should be FUN
Anyone should enjoy what they interact with on a computer. This is no different for a disabled person. Whatever the application that we build need to be engaging. Academics most of the time tend to develop some activities to 'test' their concepts which can be boring for any person in general!

He also mentioned some interesting statistics on disabled people and gaming.

War veterans in USA who play video games are five times less likely to commit suicide.
This was an astonishing fact which reminded me how engaging can a game be for a person with less mobility. He can accomplish certain tasks in the gaming environment that otherwise would be almost impossible in real world. Games are based on rewards. Once you accomplish a target, you will be rewarded. Which I see as a main difference between a typical desktop application and a game. These rewards can keep the user engaged and motivated in whatever the activity which can facilitate a successful achievement of the end target.

Amongst the client base of the AbleGamers Foundation, 60-70% people suffer with motor-disabilities
This is an interesting  stat because there is a considerable number of disabled people in the world: It is estimated over 1 billion people have some form of a disability worldwide [1]. 70% of that number is quite a huge population on whom my main focus is on

I also asked from him if there are any specific controllers and software that they use to assist the disabled in gaming. He mentioned a few:

Remap Ability: Change any Xbox 360 Controller function to any switch of your choice.
Toggle Ability: Functions can be customized to allow switches the option of imitating hold functions
Turbo Ability: Functions can be customized to allow switches the option of imitating Rapid button presses while simply holding a switch.
Multi Button Press: Use one switch to press Multiple Buttons.

Although this is priced at ~400 USD, He said it is cheaper than the most of the controllers which ar priced 1000+ USD.
Adroit from Evil Controllers
GlovePIE: This is a software application which can run a sequence of commands on a single button click. These commands can be customized by the user himself. It also can emulate the inputs of joysticks, gamepads, mice, keyboards, MIDI input devices, HMDs, Wiimotes, trackers, and virtual reality gloves. Main advantages are that this application is FREE and no special hardware is required to run it. It also supports range of brands of game controllers.

When I asked him that what are the most popular games that can be used by a disabled person, his answer was "what you are asking is the exact opposite of what we are trying to achieve. We are trying to customize ANY game to be played by a disabled person. That is why we came up with the set of guidelines for developers to build accessible games - 'Includification'"

Includification is a 50 page document which provides game developers with guidelines to build games that are accessible by a person with a disability. Editor-in-chief is one of the authors of this document. It is mainly divided in to three main categories of disabilities: mobility, hearing and visual. In each of these category there are three levels of customization: minimum (the MUSTs), good and best. There are few games that are highly accessible for a disabled gamer mentioned in this document which acquired the "AbleGamers Accessible Mainstream Game of the Year"

It seems gaming has a substantial potential in the pursuit of enabling effective communications amongst the disabled. I am working on developing a simple multi-player game and to map keyboard controllers to a Makey-Makey kit. Makey-Makey is a keyboard emulator kit which has a simple setup. Any conductive material can be used as the emulated buttons: even bananas! I am quoting the Makey-Makey promotion video here also. My aim is to use day-to-day objects as the controller buttons to assist users to input their commands in to the game. So, they can modify the locations of controllers and play games at their ease. Fingers crossed! 

Notes:
[1] Barlet, M. C., & Spohn, S. D. (2012). Includification. (A. Drumgoole & J. T. Mason, Eds.). The AbleGamers Foundation. Available from: http://www.includification.com/AbleGamers_Includification.pdf 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Gaming for the Differently-abled

Invention of computers has changed the way how we play games!!! One we can play football on a computer screen using a joystick and the movements in the game have become pretty similar to the real ones! Computer games are often entertaining and sometimes educational. 

Though there are physical limitations for the people with neurodegenerative diseases, it will be highly possible for them to involve in a video gaming experience! However, specially made equipment may require giving them an equal experience as other users. 

Surprisingly, there is highly plausible research work has been done on this front and there are interesting devices made for this purpose... I am quoting a video by SpecialEffect movement to highlight the various technologies available for the differently-abled.

These appliances most of the time exploit the user's ability to make subtle movements with hands or head or even eye. Brain computer interfaces are also used in some scenarios but it is difficult to see concrete work using such devices in gaming yet. I will outline some projects I came across.

SpecialEffect
Charity organization devoted to enhance communications of disabled people using latest technology. As they say: "Our mission is to enable anyone, whatever their disability, to enjoy video games and leisure technology."

Joysticks that are customized for low pressure pushes and pulls, tracking of eye gaze and hand movements, joysticks which are controlled using chin movement. As an example, in the following video a boy controls a professional soccer video game easily by modified joysticks and buttons behind his head! Next video shows how to configure these buttons and joystick using simple software and hardware applications.
There is a bunch of such videos on their YouTube channel.




It seems that with few modifications available gaming devices like Nintendo Wii, PS3 and XBox360 can be engineered to be used effectively by a disabled person. Carl Thompson in his inspirational blog points out how he has managed to configure a Nintendo Wii Nunchuk to suit his abilities.This is a simple wooden bar attached to the device - and It Works!!!
Is another charity organization which promotes the idea of accessible video games for the differently-abled. They introduce the concept called "Includification" where they outline guidelines for developers to make games accessible for the differently-abled. They encourage developers to modify their code where a differently-abled person can play the game as equally as a typical gamer.

I have been able to contact the Editor-in-Chief of the AbleGamers foundation - Steve Spohn and will be able to have a Skype chat in the next week. I am planning to get more information on the available devices for the people with disabilities and what are the most suitable games for them. Hope that this interview will enlighten me on this path!!!

Caleb Karft in his interesting blog post describes a controller he has designed for a video game using simple switches and a joystick. The user is able to use a 'lapboard' which is a simple sticky board to position these controllers in convenient location on the board and then keep it on the lap to play the game. He provides and explanation of his work and ideas for further improvement in this video.


Well... It is quite clear that gaming for the differently-abled is a widely discussed topic nowadays. I am hoping to get more concrete information through the interview with Steve. Looking forward!!!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Popular BCI Technologies

ThinkGear AM
This is the application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) module which runs in BCI tools by NeuroSky Inc. It is capable of recognizing brain signals through a dry electrode and then to convert them to 'intents'. It also filters background noises coming from other organs and outside devices. This chipset has been used in number of assistive tools, toys and applications. MindWave, MindSet and Necomimi are most popular by NeuroSky.

MindWave 

This is both an educational and entertainment suite made by NueroSky which can track brain wave patterns and showcase levels of attention with regard to different activities. It is not capable of sending and 'commands' from brain to any device. It only reads mind waves and interpret based on the activity. I am quoting a video of MindWave demo. It would be wise to ignore the promotional aspects and focus on the technology.

MindSet
MindSet is an advanced version of MindWave where the user has the accessibility to more entertainment options like audio interactions with a PC. The user also can accomplish certain activities like moving virtual objects, shooting objects only by concentrating on the objects.


Necomimi
This product is in fact developed by a different company based on ThinkGear AM chipset. It features a pair of cat ears which responds to 3 specific status of mind. Focused: Ears perk up, In the Zone: Ears wiggle up and down, Relaxed: Ears drop down. Although this is used more in the fashion industry, the idea behind it can be used to assist differently-abled people in controlling devices and even for activities as driving cars as shown in the video to the left.



EPOC is another popular BCI headset developed by Emotive. It uses 16 electrodes to capture brain signals. Unique 'signature' is assigend to well known commands like 'pull', 'push' and 'disappear' after a particular user is trained on such commands. Then they can use this commands to manipulate objects in applications like games.

Emotiv's EPOC BCI Headset

Monday, July 8, 2013

Brain Computer Interfaces

Brain Computer Interfaces (BCIs) are trending communication technologies which are used to enhance Human Computer Interactions of people with severe motor disabilities. Brain–computer interfaces (BCIs) are applications that can translate brain activity into signals that control external devices [1]. A BCI has the ability to detect wave patterns caused in the brain because of neuron activities and to devise the intent of the user. These intents are then can be converted in to real world actions using number of output devices.

BCI devices work based on Neuro-signals: "‘neuro-signal’ refers to a signal related to the brain. A common approach to obtaining neuro-signal patterns is Electroencephalography (EEG). It measures and records neuro-signals using electrodes placed on the scalp [5]. Generally with help of a conductive gel. However, now it is possible to measure EEG without using a gel and by just placing electrodes on the scalp (dry electrodes). This method is obviously more convenient for the user as there is no hassle of wearing a sticky gel for a long time!

There are two (2) types of EEG montages in use: monopolar and bipolar. A monopolar montage is designed to collect signals at an active site of the brain and compares with a common reference electrode. However, it is difficult to find an ideal reference site with the monopolar setup while it can produce more accurate results because of the common reference. In addition, EMG and ECG artifacts which are caused of other organs which emanate similar signals may occur in the monopolar montage. Bipolar montage can compare signals from two active scalp sites. Here the difference of activity between sites are calculated after subtracting the common activity where some information can be lost because of this subtraction.

NeuroSky Inc. which is Silicon Valley based company has been able to produce few dry electrode based consumer BCIs. They have devised non-invasive (no need to pin the electrodes to scalp) and dry (without any liquid) EEG readers which can be used by a typical user [3]. Sensors made by NeuroSky use a monopolar montage where the active site is on the forehead and the reference site is the earlobe [4]. These devices are integrated with software to control diverse appliances in the real world. ThinkGear, MindWave, MindSet, and Necomimi are the most popular BCI tools by NeuroSky. While MindWave, MindSet and Necomimi are wearable devices ThinkGear AM is a chipset which acts as the backbone of all the tools. My next post will dive into the technical details and applicability of these tools!

Left to right: MindWave, MindSet and Necomimi by NeuroSky Inc. (Source: http://www.neurosky.com/Products)
Notes:
[1] Cincotti, F., Mattia, D., Aloise, F., Bufalari, S., Schalk, G., Oriolo, G., Cherubini, A., et al. (2008). Non-invasive brain--computer interface system: Towards its application as assistive technology. Brain Research Bulletin, 75(6), 796–803.
[2] NeuroSky Inc. (2009). Brain wave signal (EEG) of NeuroSky, Inc. NeuroSky Inc. Retrieved from http://www.neurosky.com/Documents/Document.pdf?DocumentID=77eee738-c25c-4d63-b278-1035cfa1de92
[3] Crowley, K., Sliney, A., Pitt, I., & Murphy, D. (2010). Evaluating a Brain-Computer Interface to Categorise Human Emotional Response. 10th IEEE International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies, 276–278. doi:10.1109/ICALT.2010.81
[4] NeuroSky Inc. (2012). Brainwave Technology. Retrieved July 9, 2013, from http://www.neurosky.com/AboutUs/BrainwaveTechnology.aspx

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

What it is about?


Source: http://www.anindilyakwa.com.au/
This blog is based on a research project aimed at devising a multi-modal interface to improve social communications of Machado-Joseph Disease (MJD) affected people in Groote Elyandt which is an island in Gulf of Carpentaria in north-eastern Australia. Available assistive technologies and social networking tools will be analyzed and combined together to come-up with this platform. However, It is important to understand 'what is already out there' prior developing new communication technologies. 

MJD is known as a Spinocrebellar Ataxia which is charactarized mainly by incoordination of movement. Therefore, MJD patients are often locked to wheelchairs and sadly there is no cure to-date to counter-attack this. While there are research conducted in search of medical cures, it is extremely important to keep the standard of living of MJD affected people at high levels. MJD patient count in Groote Elyandt is 23 and 130 persons are at risk of being affected by MJD [2]. They might face more difficulties than the general population face because of lack of resources in a remote area.

Spinocrebellar Ataxia is one of the main branches of diseases caused by neurodegeneration where nerve cells are destroyed by the time that cannot be ever repaired again unlike other cells in human body [1]. Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Prion disease are few of the other main types of neurodegenerative diseases. While there is limited literature on MJD, there is considerable amount of research done on Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Therefore, looking at communication interventions for patients with such diseases may help the process of helping MJD affected persons in terms of improving social communications.

A main factor to keep in mind is that we are developing these communication mechanisms for culturally distinctive set of people who are living in a remote area of Australia which might lack infrastructure. However, after a thorough analysis of available technologies, it will be possible to adjust these technologies for this population to a considerable level.

Observations and interviews will be carried out with experts to understand the context prior developing any prototype by combining available assistive technologies and social networking tools. This prototype will be tested within a sample group in Brisbane, Australia to gauge the effectiveness and then will be deployed in Groote Elyandt. Feedback of the end users will be used to improve this prototype to acquire the maximum throughput.

Notes:
[1] EU Joint Programme – Neurodegenerative Disease Research (JPND). (2013). What is neurodegenerative disease? Retrieved July 4, 2013, from http://www.neurodegenerationresearch.eu/about/what/
[2] MJD Foundation. (2013). An overview of Machado Joseph disease and the MJD foundation. Retrieved from http://www.mjd.org.au/cms/file_library/Other/Other_299.pdf