Nowadays, technology and devices are a part of our life. this includes wearable devices which are luxury items we wear to count our pulse while training or manage our phone and emails etc.
What good can be done to people with disabilities? How can wearable devices help them in their everyday life?
Researches from Lankaster University in partnership with the charity Autism Initiatives UK, have initiated the project which supposes to build connected devices to help people who live with autism.
Autistic people sometimes can get susceptible and anxious. So the first goal of researchers is called a “digital squeezeball”. A user is supposed to squeeze a ball when he or she feels anxious. Data from those interactions were recorded using a companion app and the information later used to find out what caused the anxiety and when it happened.
“If there was a long squeeze, that would mean they were anxious and a message would be sent and the app would have picked up on that. Also, as part of the app, we had a social network system — whenever a person shared their location or state of anxiety with the group, the information was collected,” says Ferrario, a research Fellow at the School of Computing and Communications at Lancaster and team leader of Clasp, told ZDNet.
Though, the disadvantage of these interactions is that “people didn’t feel comfortable about sharing data about where they were most vulnerable with people they didn’t know or didn’t trust,” says Ferrario.
Thus, researchers understood that the squeezeball wasn’t the best idea of connected devices to use to record interactions.
“We found that the squeezeball didn’t suit many people — it was a bit awkward with the communication, and the size and shape of it was an issue,” said Dr. Will Simm, research associate at the School of Computing and Communications at Lancaster and technical lead of Clasp.
So the next step was to design a device, which autistic people could use in a manner they feel comfortable with.
“We came up the idea of a toolkit of components which could be put together with their own personalized sensors, their own location for wearing it for their own characterization of anxiety,” says Simm.
The first prototype looked like a wristband made up with a central computing pod designed to allow the user to customize the attached sensors.
“We wanted to make them as available and customizable as possible, so we used techniques like 3D printing and an open source environment to program it, with the intention of being able to customize it further and build their own device,” said Simm.
Researchers noticed that people could use that device in multiple ways: wrap around the wrist, tie to a belt loop or carry in a hand, and then tug or squeeze on it when they feel happy or have anxiety. The data is transferred to the researcher’s computer and than analyzed.
“We highlight the times they’ve been using it and discuss what situation they were in. It helps to reveal some different layers about their experience of anxiety,” mentioned Simm, adding that some people said it helped them understand their anxieties more.
Sending a signal about feeling anxious through the wearable device allows the user to express their feelings without verbalizing them.