For many sufferers of aphasia, a disorder caused by stroke that impairs the language centers of the brain, simple things like writing or typing up emails become incredibly difficult. One inventor, though, has created an email interface based on the Kinect system that allows his mom to do the impossible, and send simple emails to her friends and family.
The inventor, Chad Rubles, initially tried out his idea with an Arduino-based physical interface, but decided to give the same system a more digital flavor, creating a "Kinectified" software interface instead.
The UI consists of a virtual dashboard, featuring a number of emoticons, a series of level or intensity buttons, and a green arrow and red x. The user selects one of the current crop of nine emotions, then the level at which they feel that emotion, before generating and sending the email with the arrow. The red button allows the user to refresh the dashboard, and all of this is controlled using simple gestures.
Chad's mother suffered a stroke twelve years ago, which caused her subsequent aphasia. The feature set of this Kinect system Chad built for her might seem small, but the device already makes a world of difference.
"For most of my friends, I can text, email, or poke as a simple way of checking in on the people I care about. But this isn’t possible for mom. Even if the message is simple, 'I feel very groovy,' or 'I am feeling somewhat tired,' its so much more than she was able to do before," writes Chad on his blog.
"She can speed dial family members, but phone calls are often a frustrating game of 20 questions as I try to tease out the main purpose of the call, which is often – as it is for most of us, 'just to say, ‘Hi.'' But when I see that mom has emailed, 'I’m feeling quite a bit silly.' it never fails to make me smile.
"Later, when we talk on the phone or I see her, I can say, 'So, silly, eh?' For people with communication difficulties, just a little bit of context is the difference between frustration and understanding. And this simple box is a great first step toward helping mom provide that context and make it easier for mom to let us know how she is feeling."
Chad doesn't intend to leave the system there, though. The next stage is to create more buttons and "pages" to expand the digital vocabulary, such as buttons for people she is thinking about, or the ability to take a snapshot of herself using the Kinect camera and link it to a Posterous account, without comprising the simplicity of the interface his mom needs.
For many people, it can be pretty hard to be a part of the world of digital and social media. Inventions like this might just make it that little bit easier.
Check out Chad's mom putting the interface through its paces in the video below.