New Device Adjusts to Kids' Motor Skill Level
Student Hae Won Park and engineer Ayanna Howard wear their new device, Access4Kids. The device turns the touches of wearers with motor disabilities into conventional taps and swipes on a tablet.
CREDIT: Georgia Tech
Engineer Ayanna Howard recently worked with some kids who could program their own robots, but couldn't use an iPad.
Howard, a professor at Georgia Tech, was developing interfaces that allow children with motor disabilities to learn computer programming when she noticed the students couldn't easily play with tablets. Kids with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and other neurological disorders often don't have the fine motor skills that allow them to control their fingers and wrists enough to tap and swipe on a tablet.
Assistive device-makers have just started to develop some aids for people with motor disabilities, but they're far from perfect, Howard told TechNewsDaily. Device-makers have created one-button switch systems, which scroll through a list of options. The user hits a button when the right option appears, but the system can be frustrating. "If they're too slow, which is typically the issue, it passes by [the option] they want," Howard said. The systems also weren't compatible with many apps, she found.
So Howard and one of her graduate students, Hae Won Park, wanted to make something that more closely mimics swiping, and that would be compatible with most apps, including popular social media such as Facebook and YouTube. They're still working on their prototype, but plan to have their new device, called Access4Kids, in clinical trials within a year, Howard said. [SEE ALSO: How Baby-Driven Robots Could Help Disabled Children]
How it works
Access4Kids recognizes many types of touches and turns them into the taps and swipes that tablets require. Access4Kids is designed to work with any app that has been written with standard accessibility tags, which includes most popular apps.
So far, Howard and Park have tested and found that about 60 apps work with Access4Kids. The apps work right away with the device; Howard and Park don't need to contact or coordinate with the apps' original developers.
The current Access4Kids prototype consists of three large, touch-sensitive buttons lined up in a row. Users wear the buttons on one of their forearms and swipe at the buttons with the other hand.
Users are able to calibrate the device to their own abilities by playing a game that records their touches. The game notices whether its user is able to swipe across all three buttons, for example, or whether the user only swipes across two. "It calibrates to you," Howard said.
She and Park tested Access4Kids in 15 typically developing kids, plus four kids and two adults with motor disabilities. From there, they've learned what they need to do next, Howard said. They now want to separate the buttons so that users are able to place them in the location or configuration that's easiest for them. Some people may be more dexterous with their feet, for example, or they may prefer to swipe up and down rather than side to side.
How to get it
Although not all assistive devices undergo U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, Howard wants to put Access4Kids through clinical trials so insurance plans will cover them, helping more families afford them.
She estimated the final Access4Kids device will cost about $150 or $200.
"I'm kind of excited," she said of her new device. When she previously made robot-programming interfaces for kids with motor disabilities, she said she especially enjoyed watching kids do things they might not have thought they could before. "It's like, 'Yeah, see, you can do it.'"