When you enter a dark room, you simply flick a switch to turn on the light. If you dislike the current song on your playlist you skip to the next one with a light touch. We take these basic actions for granted every day but for some individuals these movements are extremely challenging. Analog Devices, Project Playtime Team Limerick, Ireland has partnered with St. Gabriel’s School a special needs primary and post primary day school to help better the lives of their students.
St. Gabriel’s School is one of only five special needs schools in Ireland. Located in Limerick, the school caters for children from four to eighteen years of age with multiple disabilities, sensory and developmental delay, and more serious life-limiting conditions. After our initial meeting with St. Gabriel’s, it became apparent that one hope that the teachers had for their students was to enable them to have an elevated level of control of their surroundings. Most of the students rely heavily on their care givers to stimulate the environment around them. This is where we decided to focus our investigations. We want to give the students the ability to affect their environment even in small ways and give them back some independence. We will be facilitating seemingly simple tasks such as the light switch and song skipping mentioned earlier in the blog post. The students have a keen interest in music but must rely on others to skip a song or restart a playlist. We want to give them the ability to do this on their own.
Actuators such as buttons or switches require fine motor skills which many of the students, we were working with do not have. Voice actuators are also not an option for these children as many of them would be considered nonverbal. Given that many of the kids we met with are assisted with wheelchairs we thought this would be a good place to start.
We wanted to make an actuator that would cater to the students’ needs and abilities. The picture below show a chair mounted device capable of sensing movement through multiple axes.
The graph below shows an example of recognizable movement through the Z-axis. This means that we could fashion a simple Bluetooth HID (Human Interface Device) to work with modern smartphones to facilitate control by non-conventional means, giving us access to a wealth of apps and games already on the marketplace. Existing technology targeting our chosen demographic can be quite costly so being able to provide a simple and cheap alternative would be a huge benefit to these kids and their families.
We still have some work to do to get this up and running with an Android application, but we are hopeful that with this project the groundwork can be put down to open the solution to a wider range of devices catering to other people’s specific needs.
Julio Sanchis Arderius
Join us next week to learn about the Project Playtime Cork team and how they are helping nonverbal children find their voice.