Life changing technology for people with disabilities | Information age


The NeuroNode device uses electromyography to measure small movements. Image: control bionics

For the past 18 months, clinician Kayla Douthie has experienced firsthand how advances in technology can improve the lives of people with disabilities.

Dothie specializes in complex communications at Rocky Bay Perth Disability Service and has had great success with mind-reading technologies.

Some of their clients have started using the NeuroNode: a device that is usually worn on the wrist that detects and interprets slight muscle movements and allows clients to connect to a computer.

“The independence this technology can give people is great,” said Dothie Information age.

“This means that they can possibly write emails, use Facebook, have private conversations or turn on the television without the help of the support agent.

“A customer with a NeuroNode has a progressive disease and loves how much the device helped them get back to some of the things they once could do.

“He used to be part of a language club where they met and practiced speaking – now he can fall back on it.”

NeuroNode measures tiny muscle movements using electromyography (EMG) – the same technology used by Facebook’s own startup CTRL-Labs for its mind-reading wristbands.

For Facebook, the same concept that drives life-changing technologies for people with disabilities will shape its augmented and virtual reality efforts by giving users the ability to interact with virtual spaces without sticking to a controller like in current virtual reality need systems.

This could mean that connecting to devices like smart glasses requires gesture control that is barely noticeable to external observers, while offering the same functionality as a keyboard and mouse.

Apple recently introduced similar technology in an Apple Watch update that now enables gesture control.

It’s called Assistive Touch and enables direct interaction with the small screen of the Apple Watch using small hand gestures.

Rather than relying on EMG, Assistive Touch uses the device’s gyroscope, accelerometer, and heart rate sensor to detect squeezing and entrapment of the user.

Combined with a cursor that is controlled by rotating your wrist, Assistive Touch allows you to access most of the functions of the Apple Watch screen with just one hand.

Some have speculated that the feature will be incorporated into the long awaited Apple Glasses.

The future of disability assistance

The inclusion of EMG and gesture control in consumer technology signals a shrinking of the technological divide that people with disabilities face.

Devices like NeuroNode can be covered by the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), which means Australians have direct access to computers and communications technology without necessarily having to pay out of pocket.

“We successfully got NDIS approval, but it’s not just the device you need money for,” said Douthie.

“It takes qualified therapists to deploy and train clients, which means more NDIS funding for therapy sessions.

“The NDIS is a large system so it is important that we have people who are experienced in building these applications and what the NDIS wants to know about why this type of equipment is needed.

“It’s really great to see how technology develops and how much it helps people.”

Douthie said she was excited to see how technology advances and will support people with disabilities.

One of the best-known proponents of this technology is Elon Musk, whose company Neuralink is looking for ways to implant computer chips in people’s brains so that they can control a smartphone.

Neuralink goes a step beyond EMG by measuring electrical signals long before they reach the muscles, potentially enabling the next level of gesture control.

Neuralink has already shown its animal testing stages by posting a video in which a monkey plays the computer game pong using only its mind.

And an article in Nature earlier this year suggested that brain-computer interfaces like Neuralink might one day allow typing at the speed of thought, completely eliminating the need for traditional keyboards.

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