How Could the Best British Universities’ Ideas Improve the Lives of Disabled People?

In March this year the Royal Academy of Engineering announced seven promising inventors currently based in UK universities who are researching and inventing in areas which could revolutionise industry and in some instances, daily life for people living with disabilities. The seven inventors have been pinpointed as offering something original and special that has real potential for advancing technology in the future.

The best minds from British universities have been discovered and their innovation has been showcased and is now supported by £85,000 funding each through the Royal Academy’s Enterprise Hub. Many of the ideas such as technology which should be able to work towards eliminating wrinkles and the creation of a new smart material will be interesting to see develop but there are some clear frontrunners when it comes to the disability sector and we’re looking at those more closely here.

Smart Glasses by Dr Stephen Hicks

Stephen Hicks’ Smart Glasses

Dr Stephen Hicks is a Research Fellow in Visual Prosthetics and he is working to produce revolutionary smart glasses designed to aid those living with visual impairments and blindness. Rather than focusing on sound based or touched based assistive technology Hicks’ research and prototype is a visual display which can be worn as glasses and is designed to improve the usefulness of the vision a person already possesses.

The glasses work by using the surroundings and detecting the 3D structure of nearby objects and then highlighting these on the visual display, allowing for recognition of things such as people, obstacles and faces. Hicks and his team are working on their prototype at present and hope to have a lightweight pair of glasses, market-ready towards the end of the year. This video explains a little more about what’s on offer:

Uroglide by Dr Nicola Irwin

Uroglide Logo

Uroglide is the development of Dr Nicola Irwin and her team at Queen’s University Belfast. Uroglide is an innovative creation designed to reduce the pain and discomfort that comes with use of catheters. Whilst many people use catheters due to operations and other work, some people require catheterisation as part of their daily life. Many people live with poor bladder function and learn to self-catheterise but this can be painful and the risk of infection or further urethral problems is higher than medical professionals would like.

Dr Irwin and her team at Quen’s have developed a new and exciting coating technology which is cheaper than the current industry-standard coating for catheters and remains lubricated for longer, adhering strongly to the catheter at the same time. A lot of the pain in catheter removal at present is down to the dried out nature of the catheter itself but this new coating removes that problem completely, improving the patient’s experience and limiting pain. Uroglide has the true potential to save time and make a life changing difference to people who suffer from the pain of self-catheterisation using the current devices and their coatings.

Fingertip Computer Gaming by Dr Jack A. Cohen

A little more unusual and indirect than the other innovations, Dr Cohen’s development is a wireless device that detects and uses 3D movements in your fingertips to interact with a computer. Whilst it has been touted as a huge potential development for computer gaming and remotely operating machinery, it could also be used in AAC technology, as an alternative for people who are able to use their hands but perhaps are non-verbal.

The technology works by combining information from cameras and set wireless sensors and people are already suggesting it could even replace the traditional computer keyboard and mouse, allowing our hands to become the key controllers instead. Dr Cohen’s technology stands out because it is accurate and affordable and has the real potential to give virtual reality a chance to take to the mainstream. This video is an example of the technology in use:

These are just some of the many ideas our universities are coming up with and the more technology can be utilised to improve people’s lives, the more funding and focus it should be given.

 

How will Driverless Cars help Disabled People?

Google's Lexus RX 450h Self-Driving Car

Google Self-Driving Car

Driverless cars are becoming more and more talked about, with the UK government taking step to put Britain at the forefront of driverless technology and many delivery services from Google to Amazon taking steps to use autonomous delivery vehicles to speed up and offer better services. Stepping away from the commercial world though, there’s the wider discussion of how driverless cars will help people in general and here we’re looking at how driverless cars may improve and benefit the lives of disabled people, improving independence and making access to a wider range of places easier.

First, we’re going to look at the current state of the driverless car technology industry and predictions for the future.

Driverless Car Technology 2015

In February 2015, as mentioned above, the Department for Transport have begun testing autonomous cars, with self-drive pods tested in both in Milton Keynes and Coventry and as this video shows, there is considerable excitement and positive forecasts for the future of driverless car industry in the UK.


Further to this there are a large number of companies and dedicated researchers focusing on driverless technology and have big plans for the future. Mercedes, for example, have plans to launch their Autobahn Pilot in 2016 which will allow for hands-free driving on motorways, with hands-free overtaking, as this video shows:

Nissan too are working on features which allow for autonomous manoeuvres on multilane roads by 2018 and Jaguar expect to release their first driverless vehicle in 2024 with Daimler and Ford following quickly behind in 2025.

It’s clear that driverless technology is very firmly coming to our roads and soon it may be something we can all benefit from, including people with disabilities.  In the long term the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers believe that as many as 75% of all vehicles may be autonomous by 2040.

The Benefits of Driverless Cars for Disabled People

EN-V Laugh (Xiao)

General Motors EN-V Electric Autonomous Concept Car

There are many benefits of driverless cars, some general and some specific to people with disabilities. The more general benefits of driverless vehicles include:

Improved Safety

Human error is a key factor in many road traffic accidents, with driverless vehicles there is no human error and failing to look or not seeing hazards is no longer an issue. Driverless vehicles use a range of sensors placed around the whole car, ensuring they can sense hazards. If safety is improved then there will be less risk of injuries, fatalities and disabilities caused by traffic accidents.

More Free Time

The average driver in England is said to spend around 235 hours driving a year on average, which is equal to six working weeks. With a driverless vehicle you have the choice of driving as well as letting the vehicle drive itself, allowing the driver to take time out to enjoy the ride.

Reducing Emissions

The long-term belief for driverless technology is that it will be able to communicate with pieces of road infrastructure, including traffic lights and therefore avoiding congestion, avoiding traffic jams and taking routes which are quicker and cause less of a risk to the environment.

Looking at driverless technology as a disabled person it could completely revolutionise the lives of many, with the opportunities for people who had been unable to drive especially interesting. Below are some of the key, specific benefits of driverless vehicles for disabled people:

Accessing the World

With access to a vehicle it is easier to travel, easier to get around and means simple things like shopping, attending hospital appointments and work can be reached more easily. The current situation can be very hard for individuals who don’t own or have access to a car as accessible taxis aren’t the norm and the difficulty of access to buses and trains has been well documented. There has even been recent news that some taxi drivers have intentionally overcharged wheelchair users, making navigating public transport not only difficult but expensive too.

Much like the point above, a driverless car can help disabled people get out more often, enjoy a social life and feel safe whilst doing so. Enjoying evenings and nights out safe in the knowledge that getting home will be a simple straightforward journey in your autonomous vehicle, makes it easier to enjoy the night out and not have to worry or feel anxious about getting back, or panic about the cost.

What else do we want from Driverless Cars?

Disruption. The end of the mobility scooter? Driverless Motability Cars for all disabled people?

The advent of driverless technology is extremely exciting but there are still questions. Will the mobility scooter become obsolete? Scooter users will be able to use the “mainstream” driverless cars for short journeys instead?  The government’s Motability scheme would may need to be updated and edited. There would be many people who could suddenly use a car when previously it had been beyond their abilities. This could see a huge number of new people wanting to access the scheme.

Driverless Car Sharing for Community Groups

There is also the possibility that driverless vehicles could be bought and offered by community groups, allowing them to be shared by their members. They could be used as autonomous taxis, returning to a central depot in between drop offs and thereby used by several people during a day.  When it’s your turn to use the vehicle it can drive to your door and pick you up!. This is step forward, especially in environments where people live in supported accommodation or care homes where trips out and excursions can be limited by the staff on the rota and whether or not they’re insured to drive the provided vehicle, if there even is one!

Also in places where regular accessible transport is hard to find like small rural villages for example. A car could be shared by a group of older people living near to each other.

Pre-programmed Wheelchair Journeys?

Where will technology go next? Is there scope that the same technology used for driverless cars can be used in electric wheelchairs? Could they too become autonomous and self-guided? People could have pre-programmed  journeys around the house, school or to local shops.

 

Telecare and health monitoring

Other features which could be useful for disabled people, in the most modern vehicles include health monitoring and telecare possibilities, which could perhaps be built into the cars too. People with epilepsy or heart conditions for instance, could have sensors built into their modes of transport, perhaps even programmed to take them to a safe destination or alerting friends or relatives if difficulties occur?

The Future – Please comment with your ideas

It does seem that the possibilities are almost endless with driverless technology and though there is a lot of testing that still needs to be done, there is real scope for change which could make the world even more accessible and allow even more disabled people to enjoy an improved level of independence. Please comment with any ideas or suggestions you have. If you can think of ways driverless vehicles could help disabled people, please let us know in the comments.

Can Robots provide Social Care?

Nao, a blue and white, surprised looking robot

“Would you like a cup of tea?” – Nao, the frst robot with emotions

Every January the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is a chance for the latest innovations in technology and gadgetry to be displayed. This year there were many highlights but more than ever before robots came into the limelight. Many companies have developed and honed their robotic developments into fully fledged prototypes and products ready for sale and simply waiting to be installed into homes around the globe. The robots developed for 2015 are a long way from the science fiction anthropomorphic droids from films and TV shows but they’re getting there and they’re certainly a long way from the old classroom Roamer robot too.

Cartoon image of Rosie the Robot dusting a dog and child

Rosie the Robot from the Jetsons

With so many fantastic innovations we thought it’d be worth looking at them from the perspective of health and social care and how they may be able to be used by disabled people for a range of purposes. Though none of the robots were that all-in-one house robot ready to serve and follow direct instructions, many of them can have a huge impact on daily life and make a different to the independence and capabilities of individuals with a wide range of disabilities. Below is a closer look at some of the key finds at CES 2015.

Furo-I Home

Fure-I Home Robot

Fure-I Home Robot

The highlight of CES 2015 and one of the ones to watch, despite its high price, was the exceptional Furo-I Home, developed by South Korean company Futurebot. In the shape of a cone and covered with sensors, Furo-I Home is topped with a tablet which displays a friendly droid-like face, ready to assist with your daily requirements.

Furo-I Home can be programmed to take control of internet-controlled devices in your home, meaning it can be used to switch lights on, heating on, music or television and it can also be used to provide reminders and guidance for children, elderly people and those who may need prompts to remember things such as their medication or to eat at set mealtimes. It’s the kind of development which could help individuals who sometimes require support workers as it can provide key reminders and also is a direct line to family and friends, as the droid can send messages asking for help or assistance. Expensive at £660 when it comes to market, it probably isn’t the droid for everyone but is a true example of how far robotics have come.

Branto Ball

The Branto Ball has been described as a cheaper alternative to the Furo-I Home and is currently the subject of a Kickstarter campaign hoping to ensure as many people as possible can enjoy all the benefits of their own Branto Ball. This smart little robotic ball is going to retail at around $399.

The Branto Ball is a small sphere-like robot which can be used to carry out a wide range of household tasks from the comfort of your smartphone, with remote access, whether you’re home or not. It can do anything from switching on the television, setting the lights and the heating and it can also be used a remote camera or monitor, to watch over children, pets and more.

The fact that it turns your smartphone into a remote means it makes settling down for the evening easier, especially for individuals who may live with chronic pain or mobility issues, as the additional strength or effort needed to switch off the heating, television and lights can be carried out with a single touch. This video explains more about the Branto Ball:

 

Budgee Bot

Budgee Bot is an extremely clever and extremely useful bot which could be used by many people living with a range of different conditions and disabilities. It’s designed to help ensure people who have difficulty with lifting heavy loads to have a robot companion to do it for them. It works through the owner wearing a transmitter and this connects to the robot, ensuring that it followers the owner around – meaning anything you need to hand can be carried with ease, without the stress of lifting and pulling.

This video introduces the Budgee Bot in more depth:

Specific Task Robots

As well as robots which can be used for a wide range of tasks, CES 2015 saw many single specific task robots on display, making many individual tasks easier to carry out and in some cases more enjoyable. Here is a closer look at some of those innovative inventions.

Droplet Robotic Sprinkler

Droplet Robotic Sprinkler

Droplet Robotic Sprinkler

We have talked many times about the garden aids available for disabled people and this is one seriously high tech addition for green-fingered growers. The Droplet Robotic Sprinkler has a modern, rounded design and works through a Wi-Fi connection which can be set to propel different amounts of water to different plants in the garden. Different plants needing different water levels can be accurately targeted and weather data can also be taken into account to delay watering when it isn’t required. Droplet allows you to enjoy your garden at leisure whilst limiting the labour that comes with it.

Grillbot

A niche robot which is ideal for summer parties and barbecues. If you regularly have the barbecue fired up in the summer months then the Grillbot will save you the hassle of all the cleaning afterwards. Using a specialised algorithm Grillbot cleans the barbecue and gets it back to its best, ready for your next use.

iRobot Innovations

iRobot were back at CES this year but rather than showing off their fantastic floor cleaning robots, including the Roombaand Scooba, they were pushing forward the idea of drones in the home, with hints at the development of a robot butler! We still really rate the robot vacuum cleaners and believe they’re a true development in the right direction for independence in the home.

The Atomobot

A great creation for anybody living with allergies or breathing difficulties, the Atomobot is a mobile air purification system which roams around the home and hunts out airborne dust and odours and then removes them. A great way of keeping the home fresh but also a fantastic development for anyone who struggles with household allergies.

The All-In-One House Bot

The crowning glory of CES 2015 came from Meccano and the announcement of the Meccanoid. Marketed as a robot which can be built and programmed by children the genuine capabilities of Meccanoid are fascinating. It can be programmed to move in certain ways, playback voices and though it’s a long way from that original home bot who can be left cleaning the house and caring for the kids, just watching this video will show you a great example of what Meccanoid can do:

JustoCat: Robot Cats for Dementia Therapy

JustoCat provides therapy for people with dementia

JustoCat provides therapy for people with dementia

JustoCat is another modern innovation which has become a huge sensation and has been hailed as a truly effective and valuable therapy tool for people living with dementia and related conditions. JustoCat has been developed by academics in Sweden and has the prime purpose of providing comfort, peace and relaxation to people with dementia, as well as a sense of company to prevent or at least lessen loneliness. JustoCat purrs and meows just like a regular cat but at £1000 or thereabouts to buy, this cat is clearly a medical device and not simply a toy.

The JustoCat has been developed in partnership by robotics experts at the Robotdalen company and healthcare researchers and academics at Mälardalen University. The JustoCat has been released across Europe and the team behind the invention believe it is good enough to be prescribed by doctors to many people living with dementic and related conditions. The simple functions of JustoCat are to mimic the behaviour of a live cat but with the benefit of washable, removable fur so it’s completely safe and hygenic in care environments and institutions. 

JustoCat can help decrease loneliness and promote interaction

JustoCat can help decrease loneliness and promote interaction

The team behind the JustoCat believe its simple function can promote interaction and communication in people who may struggle otherwise due to their condition and their research and tests back up this assertion. As well as being a valuable tool for people living with dementia, the experts also believe that JustoCat can provide be used as complimentary therapy for people with learning disabilities and its simply purpose is to provide an improvement in psychological, social and physical well-being.

It may look like a toy but JustoCat is far from it, with hopes that it will be available in the UK soon too. The benefits for people living with dementia, a condition which is significantly on the rise, have been studied and JustoCat can make a real difference – it just simply needs to be made available. The latest figures from the Alzheimer’s Society predict that by the end of this year, over 850,000 people will be living with a form of dementia so more focus on technology which can help is an absolute must. If JustoCat makes a difference then it should be made available. This video shows exactly how it works:

Robots and Social Care

It still seems to be in a very distant future that we can trust robots to be responsible wholly or even partially for social care but there are so many helpful and useful developments that disabled people are gaining access to things, even in their own homes, which may have been difficult before. Little things like the self-watering garden and the one-switch for all via our smartphones can take the stress out of daily life so significantly that they are something to truly applaud. Perhaps alongside telecare services similar to skype or facetime helping to fill the gap with the human interactive side of care.

With the innovations launched at CES 2015 it’ll be exciting to see what happens in 2016!