Well the title says it all, doesn’t it? No? Ok a little explanation: I’ve been experimenting with a friendly RFID reader for the past couple of months, coming up with some ideas that could be very useful for people with learning difficulties and dementia. After pulling them all together I was planning to publish them on the new BLTT site (coming soon).
Rabbit on a mir:ror
However the company that makes them, and runs the servers required for them to operate, has rather frustratingly filed for bankruptcy. This is a shame. Please could one of my readers dig deep into their pockets and save this little company? It would mean a great deal to me! Plus I’ve been showing the system to some OT chums and everyone has given it the thumbs up. If only the emperor will do the same…
This certainly isn’t the first time that someone has come up with a way of getting computers to respond to brain activity but now there’s finally an actual tangible commercial product on the horizon.
An American company, Emotiv, have created a headset that tracks thoughts, emotions and facial expressions and uses this information to control software. Although designed with gamers in mind (is that a pun?) there’s no reason why the headset couldn’t, in theory, be linked up to other software such as onscreen keyboards. Even if this proves to be a problem the accessible gaming aspect is really quite exciting.
So is this thing actually going to work and can it be used to improve the lives of people with severe physical disabilities? Maybe. Emotiv promises that the headset will be in the shops by next Christmas at a remarkably low price of £150. That’s cheaper than some rollerballs and thousands of pounds cheaper than current eye control systerms. But whether the device is going to be practical and useful is another matter. Daniel Terdiman from CNET recently reviewed the device and had some success but felt there was some way to go.
I’ve been recommending Screen Tinter Lite to people for a couple of years now. The program provides a rapid and easy way to change the Windows colour scheme. It’s far easier than trying to get to grips with the Windows Control Panel.
Screen Tinter Lite quickly changes the colour scheme in most programs, including Microsoft Word. Some programs require tweaking before they’ll listen to Screen Tinter Lite and because of this I’ve created special colour tutorials for Internet Explorer 7, Adobe Reader and Firefox.
I often recommend Screen Tinter Lite to people with Scotopic Sensitivity and visual impairments but it’s a great tool for anyone who uses a computer as it can be used to reduce screen glare.
IBM have combined their experience of speech recognition with signing avatars created by the University of East Anglia to create SiSi, an on-screen speech-to-signing translator. The available avatars can sign in BSL or Sign Supported English. Currently the system is a prototype but IBM are considering plans to make it commercially available.
An example of the technology can be seen below. While I obviously always welcome new advancements in assistive technologies it is clear from the video that the software is by no means ready to act as a replacement for a human signing interpreter. The avatar started lagging quite far behind the speaker and lacked the facial experiences required to express accurate meanings. On the other hand this technology could have some great applications for communicating relatively simple messages across the Internet or during PowerPoint presentations.
Babymouse is a freeware windows ‘lock-down’ program that reduces mouse functionality. It can disable all right-mouse clicks and restrict mouse use to an area of the screen. This makes it ideal for use in classrooms where pupils often get distracted by accidentally – and sometimes intentionally – clicking on icons, toolbars and the start menu.
I had high hopes for this software but is it any good? And is it really free?
The newly developed Hawking Toolbar is a free, open source plugin for the Firefox web browser that makes possible single-switch access to the internet through an autoscan. It also provides group scanning, which makes the process much more efficient, and switch access to page scrolling and the most common browser features, making it useful for two-switch users as well.
…and it won’t be IBM’s first foray into web accessibility. They alread provide their Webadapt2me service, Easy Web Browser and Home Page Reader – all of which are more or less designed to help people with visual impairments access with web in different scenarios.
Their new accessible browser – current codenamed ‘A-browser’ – builds upon the technology used in their Easy Web Browser. In addition to providing text-to-speech and help with navigation, A-Browser will provide improved access to streaming videos and animation.
Mike Azzi, spokesperson for IBM emerging technologies and global communications, said to TechNetNews “The visually impaired person cannot find the controls on the Web site to actually go ahead and click through to the video. This software helps them to locate the controls, to operate the video.”
Microsoft Anna is the new SAPI voice included with Windows Vista.
Anna replaces the robotic Microsoft Sam with a smoother, more realistic voice. She is included free with Windows Vista and should work in any program that uses the SAPI speech including Clicker 4 or 5, Writing With Symbols and the free text-to-speech programs such as Narrator, ReadPlease and Free NaturalReader.
Unfortunately Microsoft has no plans to make Anna available to users of Windows XP or any operating system other than vista.
From the Neural Systems Group at the University of Washington:
We have developed a non-invasive brain-computer interface (BCI) that allows a user to command a humanoid robot to pick up objects and bring it to specific locations. A humanoid robot can use sophisticated robotics and computer vision techniques to explore the environment, discover possible objects and interactions, and interact with the objects selected by a user. In this way, a simple BCI-based selection interface can enable a user to perform significantly complex actions.
It seems impressive to be able to control so many complex robotic movements using brain-computer interface alone. Unfortunately my understanding is that the BCI is only used to decide which of the two blocks the robot should pick up. This is done through a scanning program similar to one-switch scanning.
Further information about the processes involved are available on their website.
This unsual alternative to the mouse has been described as a floating doorknob on a 3-way axis.This completely alternative way of controlling the pointer could be more accessible for people with physical or even cognitive difficulties.
The device has force feedback which I have observed in the past can help some users get to grips with the cause and effect issues of using any pointing device.