CUbiC designs assistive tech for full spectrum of ability
Researchers at the Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing investigate people's individual needs, and then determine what design principles are most useful for addressing those needs.
Shantanu Bala, ASU undergraduate student: CUbiC's approach is to investigate the needs of individual people and figure out the design principles that are most useful for addressing those needs. This often involves talking to people directly, bringing them into the lab, showing them the devices that we've created, see how they use those devices, and see how we can adjust them.
Sethuraman Panchanathan, director, CUbiC: Initially, it was myself and a few other faculty members from other disciplines sat together and talked about what might we do in order to advance this concept of designing technologies and devices for assisting individuals.
Troy McDaniel, associate director, CUbiC: So I think of ability as a spectrum and anywhere, anyone can fall at any point in that spectrum. We think of someone who we may say has a disability, that person may fall on this end, but with assistive technology, we can move forward.
David Hayden, ASU alumnus, founder of Essistive Technologies: I'm legally blind, and so there are some challenges with navigation, with being able to affect my own transportation, with being able to socialize with people in a way that is sort of normal and cohesive and seamless.
I imagine wearable computers that don't interrupt us when we're engaging with others but at small points in time can give us little bits of useful information just in the moment. If someone's frustrated or if someone is excited, maybe we can get a little bit of that feedback to connect with each other better, to engage with our world more.
Bala: I'm working on a project that's called the VibroGlove.
On the back of it, you can see vibration motors attached onto different points of the different fingers that you have. By turning them on and off at different times, you can create a variety of different patterns or sensations across the back of your hand. By doing this, you can display different kinds of icons or symbols that mean different things, and the meaning that we want to convey is the emotion or affect of another person.
By conveying a person's emotion in the middle of a conversation, you make the conversation a lot more rich and a lot more engaging. We also conducted a few studies having actual people wear the device to see whether they can recognize the patterns, and they were able to with a surprising amount of accuracy.
Panchanathan: We devise a number of technologies, a number of devices, and a number of solutions for haptic‑based communication of situational awareness, communication of information relating to what you might see, what you might read, all of that through haptics. It was an interesting way of communicating information.
Bala: The entire process is not just very personal for the people who are using the devices, but also very personal for me as a person who is creating the devices because I get to directly interact not just with the technology but also with the people that are involved in the process.
Terri Hedgpeth, director, Disability Resources Tempe: If you can imagine going to an airport and all signage is removed. No screens to give you any indication of where flights are, you just literally have to guess where the gates are and ask as you go along. So it's a tedious means of navigation.
Panchanathan: What we have realized in working with individuals who are blind and visually impaired is that blindness is not a disability but it is concept. For example, sighted people are also blind 180 degrees of their field of vision, and a soldier in the battlefield can be blind to a situation that is two, three miles ahead of them.
One could think of how we are blind to Mars from a touch perspective. While we see images from Mars, if you want to explore Mars through touch, one could think of it as we are not able to do that right now. So how can this work that we are doing with individuals who are blind and visually impaired most importantly impact them in terms of innovative solutions, but also then is extensible to solving a variety of other problems in terms of the concept of blindness?
With age or with circumstances or with situations, we all face certain challenges in terms of how to extend our abilities. People are looking at how to extend their abilities to become more super‑able, if you may. Again, these technologies and solutions are also in finding solutions for the spectrum of abilities and super abilities.
Hayden: CUbiC was a very nurturing space for me to really build a world view that enabled me and continues to enable me to work on technological solutions for everyday problems.
Bala: Research matters because it sets a course for the future. It allows us to explore ideas, and we get closer and closer to technologies that can positively impact people and help them out in their day‑to‑day lives.
Transcription by CastingWords