Makers Making Change – Canada provides $750,000 to fund development of Open Source AT

Makers Making Change have a mission, to “connect makers to people with disabilities who need assistive technologies”. This is also our mission and something we’ve talked about before, it is also the goal of a number of other projects including TOM Global and Enable Makeathon. Makers Making Change which is being run by Canadian NGO the Neil Squire Society and supported by Google.org differs from previous projects sharing the same goal in a couple of ways. Firstly their approach. They are currently concentrating their efforts on one particular project, the LipSync and touring the North American continent holding events where groups of Makers get together and build a quantity of these devices. These events are called Buildathons. This approach both raises awareness about their project within the maker community while also ensuring they have plenty of devices in stock, ready to go out to anybody who needs them. Secondly, thanks to the recent promise from the Canadian government of funding to the tune of $750,000 they may be on the verge of bringing their mission into the mainstream.

Canada have always had a well-deserved reputation for being at the forefront of Assistive Technology and Accessibility. It is one of only a handful of nations the rest of the world look to for best practice approaches in the area of disability. For that reason this funding announced by Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, Carla Qualtrough may have a positive effect even greater than its significant monetary value, and far beyond Canada’s borders. Minster Qualtrough stated the funding was “for the development of a network of groups and people with technical skills to support the identification, development, testing, dissemination and deployment of open source assistive technologies.” Specifying that it is Open Source assistive technologies they will be developing and disseminating means that any solutions identified will have the potential to be reproduced by makers anywhere in the world. It is also interesting that the funding is to support the development of a network of groups and people rather than specific technologies, the goal here being sustainability. Neil Squire Society Executive Director, Gary Birch said “This funding is instrumental in enabling the Neil Squire Society to develop, and pilot across Canada, an innovative open source model to produce and deliver hardware-based assistive technologies to Canadians with disabilities. Hopefully this forward thinking move by the Canadian Government will inspire some EU governments into promoting and maybe even funding similar projects over here.

What is the LipSync?

The Lipsync is an Open Source Sip&Puff low force joystick that can enable access to computers or mobile devices for people without the use of their hands. Sound familiar? If you are a regular reader of this blog you are probably thinking about the FlipMouse, they are similar devices. I haven’t used the LipSync but from what I’ve read it offers slightly less functionality than the Flipmouse but this may make it more suitable for some users. Take a look at the video below.

If you want to know more about LipSync have a look at their project page on Hackaday.io where you will find build instructions, bill of materials, code and user manual.

If the idea of building or designing a technology that could enhance the life of someone with a disability or an older person appeals to you, either head down to your local maker space (Ireland, Global) or set a date in your diary for Ireland’s premier Maker Faire – Dublin Maker which will take place in Merrion Square, Dublin 4 on Saturday July 22nd. We’ll be there showing the FlipMouse as well as some of our more weird and wonderful music projects. There will also be wild, exciting and inspiring demonstrations and projects from Maker Spaces/Groups and Fab Labs from around the country and beyond. See here for a list of those taking part. 

The Big Life Fix

Just when we thought 2016 couldn’t get any better (in an AT sense) BBC make a prime time TV show with a huge focus on the design and construction of bespoke AT solutions. Although aired in December on BBC due to regional restrictions it’s not available to many on this side of the Irish Sea on iPlayer so you may not have had the chance to see full episodes yet. The good news is full episodes are beginning to make their way onto YouTube and are well worth a look. The general theme of the Big Life Fix would be how technology has the power to improve lives. Although not just about what we call assistive technology, it is more broad in scope covering many different types of technology challenge with the goal of democratising and demystifying solutions. AT does play a big part in many of the challenges however.

The first episode (a clip of which I’ve embedded below) introduces us to James, a young photographer who is having difficulty operating his SLR camera. The solution created for James features all the exciting technology and techniques being utilised every day by Makers around the world: Arduino microprocessor, 3D printing, AppInventor as well as some good old fashioned hardware hacking. The iterative nature of the design process is well illustrated with James critically evaluating the initial prototype and providing insights which significantly change the direction of the design.The other AT related challenge in this first episode features a graphic designer called Emma who due to tremors which are a symptom of her Parkinson’s, is unable to draw or sign her name. After a number of prototypes and lots of research a very clever solution is arrived at which seems to be extremely effective, leading to a rather emotional scene (have the hankies ready).

The Big Life Fix beautifully portrays both the potential of AT to improve the quality of life as well as the personal satisfaction a maker might get from participating in a successful solution. I can see this show sowing the seeds for a strong and equitable future for assistive technology.

Finally, the icing on the cake is that all the solutions featured on the show are Open Source with all the source code, design files and build notes that were used to print, shape and operate the solutions publicly available on GitHub. Nice work BBC. Take a look at the clip below (UPDATE: Full Episodes now on YouTube. Not sure how long they will stay there though).

2016 – Technology Trends and Assistive Technology (AT) Highlights

As we approach the end of 2016 it’s an appropriate time to look back and take stock of the year from an AT perspective. A lot happened in 2016, not all good. Socially, humanity seems to have regressed over the past year. Maybe this short term, inward looking protectionist sentiment has been brewing longer but 2016 brought the opportunity to express politically, you know the rest. While society steps and looks back technology continues to leap and bound forward and 2016 has seen massive progress in many areas but particularly areas associated with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Smart Homes. This is the first in a series of posts examining some technology trends of 2016 and a look at how they affect the field of Assistive Technology. The links will become active as the posts are added. If I’m missing something please add it to the comments section.

Dawn of the Personal Digital Assistants

Game Accessibility

Inbuilt Accessibility – AT in mainstream technology 

Software of the Year – The Grid 3

Open Source AT Hardware and Software

The Big Life Fix

So although 2016 is unlikely to be looked on kindly by future historians… you know why; it has been a great year for Assistive Technology, perhaps one of promise rather than realisation however. One major technology trend of 2016 missing from this series posts is Virtual (or Augmented) Reality. While VR was everywhere this year with products coming from Sony, Samsung, Oculus and Microsoft its usefulness beyond gaming is only beginning to be explored (particularly within Education).

So what are the goals for next year? Well harnessing some of these innovations in a way where they can be made accessible and usable by people with disabilities at an affordable price. If in 2017 we can start putting some of this tech into the hands of those who stand to benefit most from its use, then next year will be even better.

Google’s plan to address accessibility challenges

girl in wheelchair using communication aid

The “Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities” initiative have pledged $20M in grants to 29 non-profit organizations.  These organisations will use technology to expand opportunity and independence for people with disabilities.  The grants are to help address accessibility challenges all over the world by bringing their projects to life.  Each organization has also committed to open sourcing their technology.

Interesting projects such as solution to allow people with limited mobility to operate smartphones and 3D-printed custom footwear to allow people maintain the ability to walk.

Further details on projects

3 D Printing for Assistive Technology

3D printing is a process of making a three-dimensional solid object of virtually any shape from a digital model.   It is achieved using a process, where successive layers of material are laid down in different shapes.  While 3D printing technology has been around since the 1980s, it has not been until recently that 3D printers have became widely available commercially.

3D printing has applications in a wide range of industry sectors and now interest can be seen within assistive technology(AT).   For example, with designs such as the following; a device used to assist removing a jar lid and an alternative grip to hold the iPad.

jar opener

iPad grip

An easy way to introduce yourself into this whole area would be to consider a printing service.  There are now many printing services around.  Printing cost are generally based on the amount of material used and it starts at about €10.

One such services is Hacketts here in Dublin that can provide full-colour process, with high-resolution models.

To get started have a look at Thingiverse which is design community for making and sharing 3D printable things.

To build your own models  you’ll need some software. There are lots of free, and open source design tools to choose from such as 3dtin.com, Tinkercad.com, Sketchup, OpenSCAD  or Blender.  Also view some of the many 3D printing tutorials online.

An important point for clinicians to keep in mind is that prescribing a model for a user will make you the manufacturer so Medical Device Directive for customised devices needs to be followed.

Sean Loughran
Enable Ireland AT Training Service