Assistive Technology Boom
A unique institution in Switzerland, the Innovation Centre for Assistive Technologies (IAT) is committed to improving the quality of life of people with disabilities through technological tools with the aim of providing solutions to those people who often have no answer to their cause.
The IAT is the research and development department of the Swiss Paraplegic Foundation, formerly known as the Swiss Foundation for Teletheses. It is divided into two teams, one of which is located in the Canton of Lucerne and the other within the Technopo’le, in Valais, to get closer to other players in the health sector including the University of Applied Sciences.
Among the most publicised discoveries and inventions is the wheelchair guided by eye. The gaze is captured by a system connected to a screen, which moves a cursor in the same direction as that taken by the eyes. It is this slider that tells the wheelchair which direction to take.
It isn’t just severe disability at the heart of the project, other handicaps are part of the researchers’ concerns. Dyslexia, for example, where engineers have developed in 2016 the Phonowriter (a software that helps people with this disorder). One user of this, a 14 year old girl, living in Valais, used it for several months with success.
To go further, the ambition of the IAT is also the improvement of the tools manufactured. The JAMES universal remote control, for example. A destination for people with partial or total loss of mobility, it now allows them to control their environment, such as turning on the light or writing an SMS. The research team is currently working on a fifth version. The idea of the engineers here is to make it evolve to turn it into a real “personal assistant” with which the disabled person can dialogue, to help him on a daily basis.
Other tools still at the project stage include a systemic system for assessing professional skills. It is a decision support tool designed to estimate whether a person will be able to occupy a given job. It is intended for institutions that help people with disabilities who want to find work. This tool gives the possibility to enter information on the disability of the person and presents more than 450 questions to help define its suitability for the job. The system also offers ways to adapt the position, if the person does not completely fit.
From now on, the engineers would like to go further and create a “Living Lab Handicap”, a place of exchanges between scientists, citizens and companies concerned.
It will work in the form of a cocreation punctuated by moments where the public can participate in exchange sessions. Following the request of disabled associations, the development and testing of prototypes will be possible as well. At the same time, designers (engineers, companies, ect.) will be able to test their products with a community of people with disabilities.
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