Sunday, January 13, 2013

Georgia Tech Develops Device

Imagine not being able to control a touch-screen device. Researchers at Georgia Tech are trying to open the world of tablets to children whose limited mobility makes it difficult for them to perform the common pinch and swipe gestures required to control the devices.

Children with neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy, TBI, spina bifida, and muscular dystrophy typically suffer from fine motor impairments which make it difficult to control small coordinated movements of the hands, wrist, and fingers. These children tend to lack the ability to touch a specific small region with appropriate intensity and timing needed for press and swipe gestures.

Current assistive technology, such as Augmentative and Alternative Communication
Devices are available to children with motor impairments for use on traditional computers but not on tablets or smartphones.

Georgia Tech researchers have created Access4Kids, a wireless input device that uses a sensor system to translate physical movements into fine motor gestures to control a tablet. The device coupled with supporting open-source apps and software developed at Georgia Tech enables children with fine motor impairments to access off-the-shelf apps such as Facebook and YouTube as well as custom-made apps for therapy and science education.

The impact of Access4Kids could be significant since more than 200,000 children in the U.S public school system have an orthopedic disability and have been excluded from using tablet and touch screen devices.

The current prototype of the device includes three force-sensitive resistors that measure pressure and convert it into a signal that instructs the tablet. A child can wear the device around the forearm or place the device on the arm of a wheelchair and hit the sensors or swipe across the sensors with their fists. The combination of sensor hits or swipes gets converted to different “touch-based” commands on the tablet.

So far, Access4Kids has received positive feedback from both typically developing children and children with disabilities as well as caregivers. The device was also a finalist in a recent Intel-sponsored competition and was showcased to the British Consulate prior to the Paralympic games this summer receiving good reviews.

Funding for the research was originally funded through the National Science Foundation-sponsored Broadening Participation in Computing Program and then through I-Corps, an NSF program that translates scientific discoveries into useful products for society. Researchers are working on a version of the device called TabAccess for adults to use with motor disabilities.

Access4Kids also received a seed grant from the Atlanta Pediatric Device Consortium, a partnership between Georgia Tech, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and the Atlanta Clinical & Translational Science Institute, that provides assistance in commercializing novel pediatric medical devices and technologies.