Bournemouth University’s Assistive Technology Research to Increase Independence
Guest blog by UK based Assistive Tech expert and GDI Hub friend Dr Paul Whittington. A Lecturer in Assistive Technology in the Faculty of Science & Technology at Bournemouth University.
Dr Whittington’s research focuses on Assistive Technologies, Human Factors, Usability Engineering and System of Systems. He is a member of the Human Computer Interaction (HCI) Research Group and lectures on the MSc Human Factors and Usability Engineering courses. Here Paul shares a little more about his current research portfolio.
The Bournemouth University Human Computer Interaction (BUCHI) Research Group within the Faculty of Science & Technology are conducting assistive technology research and have several new initiatives which are the focus of our research.
Assistive Technology is one of the strategic investment areas for research at Bournemouth University, defined in the BU2025 vision for research activities, taking place during the next four years. The BUCHI Research Group is chaired by Dr Huseyin Dogan, Associate Professor and Acting Head of Department in Computing and Dr Nan Jiang, Associate Professor and Head of Department in Computing and Informatics.
Our current assistive technology research initiatives are:
- Authentibility Pass.
This research is being primarily conducted by Dr Paul Whittington, Lecturer in Assistive Technology, who has cerebral palsy and has used assistive technologies to access education and work. Dr Whittington therefore has first hand experience and is aware of the importance and benefits for independent living. The research initiatives are supported by Professor Keith Phalp, Executive Dean of Faculty of Science & Technology.
Dr Whittington’s research and specialist knowledge has contributed to the assistive technology projects that aim to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities. This is through increasing the awareness of available assistive technologies and to assist with the communication of authentication and accessibility requirements.
We are collaborating with local special educational needs schools in Dorset, University Hospitals Dorset NHS Foundation Trust, NHS Dorset Clinical Commission Group, All-Party Parliamentary Group for Assistive Technology, as well as a variety of national assistive technology charities and organisations.
SmartATRS: Control of Vehicle Adaptations from a Smartphone
SmartAbility: Assistive Technology Recommendations based on Physical Abilities
Another of our research initiatives is SmartAbility, an Android application that detects the actions that users can perform with their head, arms, hands and feet and recommends suitable assistive technologies. It uses the built-in sensors on Android devices, such as the accelerator and gyroscope, to detect the abilities of users and maps these onto an assistive technology database. The assistive technologies are then recommended to the user and further information is provided. It is anticipated that SmartAbility will increase the awareness of assistive technologies that are available to provide support, which may not otherwise have been considered.
Initiative 3 is EduAbility, an Android application which recommends assistive technologies based on the cognitive and physical abilities of users. It is based on the World Health Organization’s ICF Framework and enables users to select their abilities in terms of being, ‘Easy’, ‘Difficult’ or ‘Impossible’ to perform. The application then maps their abilities onto assistive technologies contained within the database and provides recommendations. There is a feature where specific cognitive or physical conditions can be selected to discover assistive technologies and users can also browse the entire assistive technology database.
We intend to disseminate SmartAbility and EduAbility to mainstream and special educational needs schools, so that they can benefit pupils, teachers, teaching assistants and support staff. In 2021, we developed an add-on to EduAbility, which is an Assistive Technology Training Package containing information, videos and multiple choice quizzes. We view this as a form of continuous professional development for assistive technology, similar to the health and safety training which organisations often conduct annually.
Authentibility Pass: Communication of Authentication and Accessibility Requirements to Organisations
Our final initiative is Authentibility Pass, an Android application that was developed from funding obtained through the Cyber Security Academic Startup Accelerator Programme (CyberASAP), jointly run by Innovate UK and Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. The application enables users with disabilities to input their authentication and accessibility requirements, in terms of whether they are a wheelchair user, dietary needs or authentication preferences (e.g. passwords and pin numbers).
The concept is that the user will input their requirements once into the application, which they can send to multiple organisations. We have currently developed a proof of concept application and are investigating disseminating the application to healthcare organisations, higher educational institutions, small medium enterprises, non-profit organisations and financial institutions.
Authentibility Pass has received interest from University Hospitals Dorset NHS Foundation Trust who is currently investigating new approaches to assist patients with disabilities in accessing healthcare services. A demonstration video of Authentibility Pass is available at:
The SmartAbility, EduAbility and Authentibility Pass applications will be released on the Google Play Store in late 2022 or early 2023, initially as free applications to maximise uptake. We plan to further develop the SmartATRS project by researching the control of a powered wheelchair through brain activity, using electroencephalogram (EEG) technology. It will consider the integration with smart home functions with the aim of developing a SmartPowerchair.
We have applied to establish a spinout company from Bournemouth University, to facilitate the dissemination of our applications through licensing agreements. This company will provide support for all of our current applications and we will apply for grants to support new developments. The rationale behind all of our research projects is to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities, in education, cyber security and smart home domains, in line with the BU2025 research vision. We would welcome collaboration opportunities with any of our assistive technology initiatives.