Those of us who love our tech often fail to realise how much of it we take for granted. While we’re complaining about things like the idiotic decision to change that menu, or how the latest update of whatever has totally ruined everything, there remain plenty of people out there who would dearly love to be able to engage with the devices and gadgets that many of us spend so much time bitching about.
Chad Ruble’s mother, Lindy, is the perfect example of this. Twelve years ago, she survived a serious stroke, which left her suffering with aphasia. This is a disorder which has no impact on a person’s intelligence, but severely impairs their ability to communicate and to recognise text; as a result, reading and writing become extremely difficult, if not impossible.
In a blog post, Chad noted that since his mother’s stroke, “there’s been a revolution in communication – powered by social media”. Recognising that there are many people like his mother who have, to varying degrees, been left behind as the world has powered ahead into an interconnected social nirvana of sharing ideas, thoughts and content, he says that he formed a keen interest in “bridging the digital ‘keyboard gap’ for people like my mom”.
To help her, Chad created a custom user interface, controlled via Microsoft’s Kinect motion sensor. The interface is icon-based, so Lindy doesn’t need to read anything on screen, and Kinect allows her to interact by waving her hand to hover over and select the icons, which represent simple emotions, and allow her to select different levels to communicate emotional intensity. In Chad’s words:
The first step was coming up with a visual “dashboard” to help her compose simple messages. Each icon is associated with a specific emotion, which can then be qualified by an amount. I used a Kinect with the SimpleOpenNI library for Processing along with some gesture recognition code from Matt Richardson to track the position of my mom’s hand. I then used a sample Processing sketch from Daniel Shiffman to generate and send the email by using the green arrow button. The red “X” resets the screen.”
When Lindy sends the email, the iconograph is converted into a simple text message, such as “Lindy feels very happy”. Right now, the system is evidently quite basic, but Chad is already looking to the future:
I plan to add other “boards” and “pages” later to allow for a greater variety of messaging, but maintaining a super simple interface for my mom… The next version will have wider channels between emotions to avoid inadvertent selection. It would also be fun to snap and attach a jpeg [photo] from the RGB Kinect camera to the email. Still, its clear that mom is happy with the result.”
From Lindy’s huge smile in the video below, it’s clear that she’s very happy indeed.
The majority of us are incredibly fortunate, of course, to be surrounded by awesome gadgets that practically bend to our will to make just about every little aspect of our lives better. But for some, all it takes is one advancement, one piece of amazing technology, to make a huge difference in their lives.