Imagine not being able to touch a touch-screen device. Tablets and smartphones-with all their educational, entertaining and social benefits-would be useless.
Researchers at Georgia Tech are trying to open the world of tablets to children whose limited mobility makes it difficult for them to perform the common pinch and swipe gestures required to control the devices.
Ayanna Howard, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and graduate student Hae Won Park have created Access4Kids, a wireless input device that uses a sensor system to translate physical movements into fine-motor gestures to control a tablet.
The device, coupled with supporting open-source apps and software developed at Georgia Tech, allows children with fine motor impairments to access off-the-shelf apps such as Facebook and YouTube, as well as custom-made apps for therapy and science education.
"Every child wants access to tablet technology. So to say, 'No you can't use it because you have a physical limitation' is totally unfair," Howard said. "We're giving them the ability to use what's in their mind so they have an outlet to impact the world."
The current prototype of the Access4Kids device includes three force-sensitive resistors that measure pressure and convert it into a signal that instructs the tablet. A child can wear the device around the forearm or place it on the arm of a wheelchair and hit the sensors or swipe across the sensors with his or her fist. The combination of sensor hits or swipes gets converted to different "touch-based" commands on the tablet.
Children with neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, spina bifida and muscular dystrophy typically suffer from fine motor impairments, which is the difficulty of controlling small coordinated movements of the hands, wrists and fingers. They tend to lack the ability to touch a specific small region with appropriate intensity and timing needed for press and swipe gestures.