Device helps children with disabilities access tablets (w/video)

Posted: Dec 11th, 2012

QDOTS imagesCAKXSY1K 8(Nanowerk News) Imagine not being able to touch a  touch-screen device. Tablets and smartphones—with all their educational,  entertaining and social benefits—would be useless.
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.
Ayanna Howard, professor of electrical and computer engineering,  and graduate student Hae Won Park 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  current prototype of the Access4Kids device (top right) includes three  force-sensitive resistors that measure pressure and convert it into a signal  that instructs the tablet. Howard is creating a second prototype with wireless  sensors (bottom left) that can be placed anywhere a child is capable of hitting  them.
The device, coupled with supporting open-source apps and  software developed at Georgia Tech, allows 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.
“Every child wants access to tablet technology. So to say, ‘No  you can’t use it because you have a physical limitation’ is totally unfair,” Howard said. “We’re giving them the ability to use what’s in their mind so they  have an outlet to impact the world.”
The current prototype of the Access4Kids 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 it on the arm of a wheelchair and hit the sensors or swipe across the  sensors with his or her fist. The combination of sensor hits or swipes gets  converted to different “touch-based” commands on the tablet.
Children with neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy,  traumatic brain injury, spina bifida and muscular dystrophy typically suffer  from fine motor impairments, which is the difficulty of controlling small  coordinated movements of the hands, wrists and fingers. They tend to lack the  ability to touch a specific small region with appropriate intensity and timing  needed for press and swipe gestures.
The impact of Access4Kids could be significant. More than  200,000 children in the U.S. public school system have an orthopedic disability  and have been excluded from tablet and touch screen devices. Current assistive  technology, such as Augmentative and Alternative Communication devices, is  available to those with motor impairments for traditional computer platforms but  not tablets or smartphones.
“We can’t keep it in the lab,” Howard said. “It doesn’t make  sense for me to have one child, one at a time look at it and say ‘Hey that’s  really cool’ and not have it out there in the world. The real goal is to make it  safe and efficient so someone can make it into a commercial product.”
Howard is creating a second prototype that aims to be more  flexible. It will include wireless sensors that can be placed anywhere a child  is capable of hitting them, such as with a foot or the side of the head. User  trials for the second prototype will begin soon. Howard says she hopes to have  the device through clinical trials starting next year.
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.
The project was originally funded through the NSF-sponsored  Broadening Participation in Computing Program and then through I-Corps, a  National Science Foundation program that aims to translate scientific  discoveries into useful products for society. Howard is working on a version of  the device called TabAccess for adults 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 with the commercialization of novel pediatric  medial devices.
Source: Georgia Tech

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