Ever thought about using your wheelchair joystick to send an e mail or turn on your lights?

BJlive BJoy ring controlling a mobile phone

It is easy for someone to assume that their wheelchair can only be used for driving.  However, wheelchair manufacturers have developed their products in recent years and considered the needs of the user such as the need to also interact with their mobile phone, PC or even a TV.  As well as the basic chair functions such as driving or controlling the actuators these electronic systems can also enable control of a computer or portable devices and so the integration of environmental controls is possible on most power wheelchairs. The same controls that the user drives the power wheelchair with, typically a joystick, can also be used to control an appliance within their environment.  Another benefit of integrating control of other devices within the wheelchair joystick is that it may help to ensure the user maintains a good posture while operating other devices.

All of the main wheelchair controller manufacturers have Bluetooth mouse options, including Dynamics Controls with their Linx controller, Curtis instrument’s quantum q-logic controller, and Curtiss-Wright – Rnet controls.

CJSM2 bluetooth power wheelchair JoystickFor example for chairs with R-net controls you can replace the old joystick with a CJSM2 –BT as seen in the picture here.  This R-net Joystick Module has Infra-Red (IR) capabilities included. IR technology is widely used to remotely control household devices such as TVs, DVD players, and multi-media systems, as well as some home-automation equipment. Individual IR commands can be learned from an appliance’s remote handset and stored in the CJSM2.  Also Integrated Bluetooth technology is an option, to enable control of computers, Android tablets, iPads, iPhones and other smart devices from a powered wheelchair. To switch between the devices, the user simply navigates the menu and selects the device they wish to control.  The R-net’s CJSM2 can easily replace the existing rnet joystick module, with no system re-configuration or programming required.

Although not all power wheelchairs can be fitted with Bluetooth mouse-enabled joysticks, there are some good alternatives that may still work.  The BJoy ring is a sensor that can be fitted to most wheelchair joysticks where deflections of the joystick can be translated to mouse movements picked up on a Bluetooth mouse receiver placed on a tablet or PC.

  • The good: Users can do many daily tasks using one device
  • The not so good: This capability is only available on high spec wheelchair systems.
  • The verdict: Using a wheelchair joystick that is Bluetooth enabled will ensure the user maintains a good posture while operating their other devices.

Window Opener

ACK4 Window Opener on a PVC window

Automatic window openers were design to meet the need of inaccessible windows that are out of reach such as skylights on roofs.  Using a wireless remote to activate the window opener we can open and close the window at ease.  For people with a mobility restriction window openers can give independence to control ventilation in their living space. The ACK4 Window Opener is suitable for aluminium and timber windows.  It has an anti-crush control board to prevent trapped fingers.  To control the window, you can either use a wall switch, an infrared remote control or a 433 Mhz radio control transmitter. The window actuator with remote costs about £240.

Using a Broadlink RM Pro could make a window opener become part of your smart home setup and hence then possibly voice controlled.


More information

The good: Can be fitted to any window and there are various options to control the window actuator.

The not so good:  Complicated installation and will require an electrician.

The verdict: Will give increased independence to control ventilation for people with a mobility restriction.

Smart blinds

Motorised blinds and curtains have been around for many years, providing easy access to control blinds and curtain rails.  Control of these motorised devices was usually with the use of a radio remote control, which made such devices particularly of interest for people with mobility issues.  Internet of Things (IoT) has now extended its internet connectivity to these everyday objects. Embedded with technology, these devices can communicate and interact over the internet, and they can be remotely monitored and controlled.

An example of this is Somfy motorization systems.  These systems consist of a range of motorised blinds, curtains and roller shutters.  The Somfy myLink™ is a device that turns your smartphone or tablet into a remote control for motorized products featuring Somfy Radio Technology.  For voice control, Alexa now works with myLink!

Somfy mylink app for Smart blinds

Purchasing new blinds or curtains rails could work out to be quite expensive, and possible wasteful if you already have good blinds in place, however, there are a number of options available to retrofit existing blinds to also consider.  They are able to transform your standard home blinds into smart electric blinds and do so at an affordable price.  Like the Somfy blinds, they also provide a way to raise, lower and choose an intermediate position of the blind.

Blind Engine

Blind Engine smart blind

The Brunt Blind Engine can motorize your existing blinds and connect to your smartphone, allowing remote control and scheduling of your blinds anywhere, anytime.

It is designed to be compatible with most roll-type blinds available on the market,
allowing blinds of all different shapes and sizes to be successfully fitted.

The Blind Engine comes with two different gears designed to accommodate string cords and ball chains.  With the Brunt App, you can raise and lower multiple blinds at the same time. (No extra monthly charge for the Brunt application)
You can use the Brunt Blind Engine with various voice recognition speakers.
Cost online $129

Axis Gear

Axis gear smart blinds

AXIS Gear is an affordable and easy way to motorize your window shades. Gear is a smart device that lets you easily control and schedule when your shades open and close.  Axis say the install and setup of Gear takes minutes and guarantees to fit your shades or your money back.

Included are a solar panel and backup AA batteries. The App allows the creation of schedules and smart home integration.

Cost online $250

My Smart Blinds (only tilts shade)

My smart blinds kit

The MySmartBlinds Automation Kit controls only the tilting of your horizontal blinds on a schedule and on demand from your smartphone.

Automation Kit includes:

  • Motor box
  • Battery pack
  • Manual switch
  • Rod adapters for all tilt rod shapes
  • Solar panel/charging cable optional extra.

Cost online        $129

Soma Smart Shades

Soma Smart Shade

The SOMA Smart Shades is designed to fit your existing shades and curtains with a continuous-cord. Continuous-cord shades have one looped string or beaded chain that allows you to raise and lower the bottom of the shades. Attach the device to your shades or blinds with a beaded chain or string, download the mobile app, follow the instructions and you’re ready to go. Automated schedules can be created and it is possible to control multiple windows from one mobile app. It is Android & iOS supported. Smart Shades are solar powered with a built-in lithium battery. By installing the SOMA Connect, you can control your shades with your voice, as it works with Amazon Alexa and Apple HomeKit.

Cost online  $149

Video doorbells

Video door bell user commmunication on their phone to a group outside at the door
Video doorbells bring both convenience and security to your home by streaming a live view of the doorstep to your smartphone, whether you are on the other side of the door or the other side of the world. For someone with a disability, these could be quite useful products as they let you check who is there before answering. Your smartphone is notified the moment motion is detected or the doorbell is pressed. You can speak to visitors through the doorbell’s microphone and speaker.
Used in combination with a smart lock they could replace older technologies such as a video door intercom for door entry. There are now a number of smart video doorbells products available, as can be seen below.

Ring video doorbell

Nest video doorbell

Blink Video Doorbell

The good: You wont miss another call on the door whether you are on the other side of the door, or the other side of the world.

The not so good: If your home Wi-Fi stops working so does your doorbell.

The verdict: Promotes living independently for people with disabilities by providing a secure door entry system.

See our smart door lock post

Promoting independent living

One of the dangers for people with disabilities living independently are the risks associated with cooking which can result in a fire.  However, there are a number of devices we can use to reduce or even eliminate this danger in cooking.  These devices can promote independent living when using the cooker is risky due to old age, memory disorders, disability, or learning difficulties. These devices aim to protect the area of a home most at risk of catching fire, the kitchen.

lnnohome Stove Guard

Innohome stove guard kit

The lnnohome Stove Guard is a cooker safety device that monitors the hob use and registers when the user is not present. If the cooker has been left on the Timer turns it off.  The Stove Guard will also identify a dangerously high temperature or steep temperature rise, and recognizes the alarm signals of fire, gas and carbon monoxide alarms. An Automatic Safety Lock ‘locks’ the cooker so that it cannot be turned on accidentally.

Stove Guard SGK510

 

Video

lnnohome Stove Alarm

Innohome stove alarm

The Stove Alarm is a more affordable solution than the Stove Guard that will improve the kitchen’s fire safety significantly.  The Intelligent Heat Sensor, attached underneath the cooker hood, signals an alarm, that alerts the user to a hazardous situation happening on the cooker before it produces toxic gases or starts a fire.  The alarm also sounds if it is removed from its location.

More information

The distributor in the UK is Safelincs Fire and safety solutions.

 

The good: The lnnohome Stove Guard prevents a fire starting in the kitchen

The not so good: Requires installation by an electrician

The verdict: Promotes living independently for people with disabilities by decreasing the risks associated with cooking.

Interesting in reading more about Assistive Technology in Old Age?

 

Obi

Obi feeding device

Many of us agree that eating is one of life’s pleasures. Sitting down to a delicious meal with cherished friends or family is as about as life-affirming as it gets but what happens if you have a difficulty in eating independently?

Luckily there are a number of products that can assist with eating.  A new product called Obi works by automating the movement of the human arm, allowing the user to select food of their choice and dictate the pace at which the food is fed to them.

Obi allows the caregiver to quickly position the device for optimal use and modify the food delivery location for each user.

The Obi plate consists of 4 individual food compartments. The obi arm is controlled by two switches, one switch controls the compartment Obi picks up from and the other switch then picks up the food. The plate can be easily removed and cleaned and is also microwavable. Weighing just over 3 kilos and being equipped with a built-in rechargeable battery means that it can be taken anywhere

The distributor in Ireland is O’Neill Healthcare Ltd.

The good: Simple for the user to operate and it works really well.

The not so good: At €5,000, it’s a big price tag.

The verdict: If you can source the budget, it will give great independence around mealtimes.

Technology to help people with dementia maintain independence

Dementia is a term which describes a range of conditions which cause damage to our brain. This damage affects memory, thinking, language and our ability to perform everyday tasks.  Although technology may not fix someone’s deficits, it will give them a better quality of life and peace of mind for their family. Assistive technology can help support and enable people with conditions such as dementia to live more independently.

Pendant alarm

One of the most common technologies that can enable people with dementia to live more independently is a Pendant Alarm.  The aim of the pendant alarm is to support an individual living independently by ensuring they are safe while alone.  For example if they have a fall or any other major concern they can press the pendant to beckon help.  The pendant is typically worn around the neck as a necklace or around the wrist as a watch. The pendant alarm can also signal the presence of a hazard requiring urgent attention, such as high smoke or a carbon monoxide levels, as various sensors can be linked to the pendent alarm system.  These devices can be further linked to a Monitoring Centre that operates 24 hours a day seven days a week.  If a personal alarm or accompanying sensor is activated, a call is immediately alerted to the 24 hour Monitoring Centre where it will be answered by a trained telecare operator. The internal speaker and microphone on the Pendant Alarm will allow the operator to speak hands free with someone until help arrives. The operator will remain on the line until the situation has been resolved and they are satisfied that the person is back in good hands.  In Ireland the cost of a Pendant alarm package is covered by a grant available under the Seniors Alert Scheme. This is open to those over the age of 65, and covers the cost of having a socially monitored alarm installed at home.

Pendant alarm for assisted living

A Pendant to activate the alarm is worn around the neck or the wrist.  Pendants can be subtle such as the Minute Watch which is discreet high quality watch that incorporates a personal alarm.

Once alarm is activated the centre is contacted which will allow the operator to speak hands free to the client.

Minuet Watch from Tunstall Emergency pendant alarm

Prompts and reminders

An individual with dementia over time may have a decrease in their ability to think and remember, they may need reminders to help them with their daily activities, such as making meals, feeding pets or taking their medication.  There are various gadgets currently available which can provide prompts and reminders and generally, make their life a bit easier.

It's Done app provides a checklist for life's everyday critical tasks

As most people are rarely without their mobile phone, setting up a reminder app could be a useful way to help them remember important things. Some apps worth trying include Wunderlist (free) which lets you create different lists for different topics.  Another app which is also useful is called It’s Done!  It’s Done is essentially an app that provides a checklist for life’s everyday critical tasks such as locking doors, feeding pets, taking medication, and turning off the stove.   This allows you to go back and check your routine everyday tasks if you have forgotten.

Pill dispenser

If apps are not sufficient for an individual to remember to take their medication then there is the option of a Pill dispenser.  Pills can be divided up into days, morning and evening and fitted into their own compartments. An alarm will sound when s/he need to take his pills. Some dispensers can be programmed to only release the set number of pills each time, locking away the rest until they’re needed.

Pill dispensers can be programmed to only release the set number of pills each time, locking away the rest until they’re needed.

Useful apps

If an individual struggles to remember people’s names, an app called Knome (free) can help by setting up profiles for people the person meets, including pictures and explanations of how they know them.

For those who occasionally misplaces items such as wallet or keys around the home, a key finder will help reduce frustration and disappointment.

The Object Locator is a gadget that offers a simplistic solution. The beepers can be attached to items with the key rings or with Velcro to handbags, or a glasses case.   You just press the labelled remote control to activate a beeper.

key finder for those who occasionally misplaces items such as wallet or keys

Maintaining cognitive abilities

Studies have found that playing games which challenge people on reasoning and problem solving can help people over 60 to get on better with their daily activities.  In 2006, the ACTIVE Study, funded by National Institute of Health, demonstrated that older adults could improve their brain abilities with the correct training. Certain mental exercises can partially offset the expected decline in older adults’ thinking skills and show promise for maintaining cognitive abilities needed to do everyday tasks.

There a number of brain trainer sites such as Lumosity and Fit brains.

brain trainer for maintaining cognitive abilities

Both sites feature a combination of cognitive games that are aimed at “exercising” the brain. The games challenge memory and attention by engaging the user in common cognitive and neuropsychological tasks.

Out and about

For individuals who may become lost in familiar places such as their own neighbourhood or village, the installation of a suitable route planner on a Smart Phone may be good idea.  It will pick out the best way to get somewhere, or back home again.

route planner on a Smart Phone. It will pick out the best way to get somewhere, or back home again.

Many people may still want to enjoy the freedom of taking their dog out for a walk.  Pendant alarms do not typically work outside the range of the home.  However an individual’s condition becomes worse an emergency phone such as a Pushphone OK may provide valuable support.  This is an emergency phone with GPS for location, Fall monitoring and GEO-fencing.

Pushphone OK, this is an emergency phone with GPS for location, Fall monitoring and GEO-fencing.

With the Pushphone OK you can call the number you have stored on the upper two buttons (red and green handset) by pressing the respective button for a longer time.  The person who is called can also receive an SMS with the link of the position data.

On the upper right side there is the little red button. This button should be configured for the worst case. The button can be connected to the local ambulance 112.

With the Geofencing (entering a certain radius.) If the person moves out of the given area, a message is sent to the smartphone.)

Route4U – Accessible route planning

Tamas and Peter from route4u.org called in last week to tell us about their accessible route finding service. Based on Open Street Maps, Route4u allows users to plan routes that are appropriate to their level and method of mobility. Available on iOS, Android and as a web app at route4u.org/maps, Route4u is the best accessible route planning solution I have seen. Where a service like Mobility Mojo gives detailed accessibility information on destinations (business, public buildings), route4u concentrates more on the journey, making them complementary services. When first setting up the app you will be given the option to select either pram, active wheelchair, electronic wheelchair, handbike or walking (left screenshot below). You can further configure your settings later in the accessibility menu selecting curb heights and maximum slopes etc. (right screenshot below)

Accessibility screen shot featuring settings like maximum slope or curb height

Further configure your settings in Accessibility

select you vehicle screen - see text above

You are first asked to select your mobility method

This is great but so far nothing really groundbreaking, we have seen services like this before. Forward thinking cities with deep pockets like London and Ontario have had similar accessibility features built into their public transport route planners for the last decade. That is a lot easier to achieve however because you are dealing with a finite number of route options. Where Route4u is breaking new ground is that it facilitates this level of planning throughout an entire city. It does this by using the technology built into smartphones to provide crowdsourced data that constantly updates the maps. If you are using a wheelchair or scooter the sensors on your smartphone can measure the level of vibration experienced on a journey. This data is sent back to route4u who use it to estimate the comfort experienced on that that journey, giving other users access to even more information on which to base their route choice. The user doesn’t have to do anything, they are helping to improve the service by simply using it. Users can also more proactively improve the service by marking obstacles they encounter on their journey. The obstacle can be marked as temporary or permanent. Temporary obstacles like road works or those ubiquitous sandwich boards that litter our pavements will remain on the map helping to inform the accessibility of the route until another user confirms they have been removed and enters that information.

Example of obstacle added by user - pictusr of curb that may not be accessible to wheelchair

Example of obstacle added by user –

Example of obstacle added by user - picture of gate which would not be accessible to wheelchair

Example of obstacle added by user

If you connect route4u to your FaceBook account you get access to a points based reward system. This allows you compete with friends and have your own league table. In Budapest where they are already well established they have linked with sponsors who allow you cash points in for more tangible rewards like a free breakfast or refreshment. These gamification features should help encourage users less inclined towards altruism to participate and that is key. Route4u when established relies on its users to keep information up to date. This type of service based on crowdsourced data is a proven model, particularly in the route planning sphere. It’s a bit of a catch 22 however as a service needs to be useful first to attract users. It is early days for Route4u in Dublin and Tamas and Peter acknowledge that a lot of work needs to be done before promoting the service here. Over the next few months their team will begin mapping Dublin city centre, this way, when they launch there will be the foundation of an accessible route finding service which people can use, update and build upon. While route4u has obvious benefits for end users with mobility difficulties there is another beneficiary of the kind of data this service will generate. Tamas and Peter were also keen to point out how this information could be used by local authorities to identify where infrastructure improvements are most needed and where investment will yield the most return. In the long run this will help Dublin and her residents tackle the accessibility problem from both sides making it a truly smart solution.

map showing blue, green and red routes

Area that has been mapped

Legend showing levels of accessibility

Legend showing levels of accessibility

 

Mefacilyta Desktop app

Mefacilyta Desktop

In this podcast, Sarah Boland, together with David Deane and Áine Walsh, talk about the training they hosted on 21st June 2017 on the Mefacilyta Desktop app in St John of God in Stillorgan.

Mefacilyta Desktop is a new Android app developed by Vodafone Foundation Spain in conjunction with St John of God, which can be individually tailored to support people with intellectual disabilities to learn how to carry out their everyday activities independently.Vodafone symbol with person pointing to letter M Mefacilyta app

Controlling your home appliances with you voice

You know a particular technology is fast approaching mainstream when every manufacturer seems to be developing add-ons to make their products work with it.

From Samsung’s SmartThings to August Smart Home Locks, 3rd-party developed skills are voice experiences that add to the capabilities of any Alexa-enabled device (such as the Echo). For example “Alexa, set the Living Room lights to warm white” or “Alexa, lock the front door.” These skills are available for free download. Skills are continuously being added to increase the capabilities available to the user.smart controlled lock on a door

smart controlled lighting in a living room

he Amazon Echo is a smart speaker developed by Amazon. It is tall cylinder speaker with a built-in microphone. The device connects to the voice-controlled intelligent personal assistant service Alexa, which answers to the name “Alexa”. The device is capable of voice interaction, music playback, making to-do lists, setting alarms, streaming podcasts, playing audiobooks, and providing weather, traffic, and other real-time information
However, it can also control many smart devices using itself as a home automation hub.
The videos below give an example of using your voice with smart home products.
https://youtu.be/V7WfxI3ecVI
https://youtu.be/pH8fg1noIj0

The good: As far as price goes, the Amazon Echo comes in various forms, the
Amazon Echo Dot costs £44.99 which seems affordable. All the Amazon skills that add to the capabilities of any Alexa-enabled device are free.

The not so good: Requires internet connection to work. If your internet goes down then your ability to control the devices around you also does too.

The verdict: A good way to dip your toe in the Internet of Things waters, more capabilities on the way.