Thursday, September 27, 2012

Accessibility Enhancements in Google Apps

Google has made a ton of accessibility enhancements to some of its apps, viz., Drive, Calendar, Contacts, mobile apps (and others).  Some of the enhancements are:

- Including OCR in Google Drive to allow screen readers to read text from scanned PDFs and images.
- Over 450 webfonts launched in documents and presentations with basic accessibility support.
- Custom color picker added to Calendar to create better viewing experience for users with low vision.
- Basic keyboard controls improved for Gmail for mobile.

To see the extensive list of new features and bug fixes, visit this link.

Google has also created an Administrator Guide to Accessibility for technical administrators/ accessibility specialists etc. that gives them

- A summary of accessibility information for Google Apps.
- helps understand the current state of accessibility for each supported app in Google Apps.
- best practices for implementing Google Apps to support users' accessibility needs.

Bill Signed For Self Driving Cars On Public Roads

Self driving cars are a step closer to reality!

California governor Jerry Brown signed bill SB1298 two days ago which formalizes the legal and safety standards for automated cars so that they could be driven on state owned roads. This is good news for people with visual impairment and other disabilities (that hinder their ability to commute) because in the future, this self driving car would enable them to fearlessly commute without having to depend on others for transportation purposes.

Several important points were made during the bill signing ceremony, some of which were:

- Accidents are caused by human errors. The self driving cars have potential to avoid accidents.

- The "drivers", when stuck in traffic, can utilize their time doing something else, thus being more productive.

- Self driving cars have the ability to eliminate congestion.

- Last, but not the least, self driving cars do not jump red lights!

Of course, there is still a lot of testing that needs to be done. However, Sergey Brin thinks that the self driving car would probably be ready for public use in five years or so.

Watch the following video to see Sergey Brin and Jerry Brown talk about the self driving car and how these cars would change our lives.

Source: Google+ via Engadget

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Human Support Robot: Toyota's Personal Assistant for People With Disabilities

Human Support Robot with a mounted tablet on top to enable communication with others.

Toyota recently announced a new personal robot that has been designed to be an assistant of sorts for people with disabilities, essentially helping them live more independently.

HSR pulling a drawer out.The Human Support Robot (HSR) can be controlled using any tablet like device. The tablet can also be placed on top of HSR which would allow communication between the robot's owner and other people (caregivers) using Skype or other similar communication tools. HSR is capable of picking things up from the floor/atop tables/counters, opening & closing curtains, and fetching things for the owner, which may not be easy tasks for elderly or disabled people.

Toyota has been extensively testing HSR since 2011 and constantly getting feedback from patients. From the looks of it, HSR has a very good chance of becoming a real consumer product in a couple of years. Toyota would be demonstrating HSR from 26 - 28 September at Tokyo Big Sight as part of the "bleeding edge development of health care equipment" project.

HSR shown picking up things from the floor, atop table, and a high counter.

HSR handing something to a patient.

Source: via The Verge
Images source:

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Hands Free Wheelchair

Josh in his wheelchair
Image source: Engadget
If you are a technology aficionado, and are curious to know what sort of amazing projects can come out   of a small workshop, then you should totally subscribe to The Ben Heck Show!

In one of his latest episodes, Ben Heck shows how he created a hands free wheelchair for a soon to be father who wanted to take care of his baby while still in his wheelchair.

Watch this video to see how Ben created two additional accessories for Josh's wheelchair - an add-on motor assembly that sits beneath the wheelchair and a joystick (track ball?) like device that sits in the front on the footrest and controls the chair's speed and directionality.

If you want to skip all the technical details, go straight to the "Powering it up" segment on the video's progress bar.

Source: The Ben Heck Show via Engadget

Monday, September 10, 2012

Mind Controlled Robotic Leg

image showing an able bodied person testing the robotic leg
Image source: Technology Review website
A lot of progress has been made in the world of prosthetics, but we have not seen a whole lot when it comes to mind controlled prosthetic limbs. 

That's going to change soon!

Scientists at Long Beach Veterans Affairs Medical Center in California recently announced that they have invented a new robotic leg that is controlled by EEG signals (electric impulses generated by our brains) that are fed into a computer. This robotic leg is meant for both able bodied people and people with spinal cord injuries.

One major factor that was given utmost importance during testing was the number of "false starts" this system would (not) generate. Imagine a person with this robotic leg waiting to cross a railway track or a busy road - false starts triggered by the brain's electric impulses would put the robotic leg in motion, making the person to walk (when not required), and ultimately causing a fatal accident. Fortunately, during testing, there were zero false starts observed!

This robotic leg has so far been tested on able bodied subjects, and the next step is to test it on people with spinal cord injuries and incomplete motor skills. Achieving success with the latter group would be a giant leap in this field of research. As of now, the ability to start and stop walking was tested. Future testing would include turning and sitting.

Here's a video that demonstrates this robotic leg on an able bodied person. The subject in this video instructs his legs to start and stop walking for a total of five minutes.

Source: Technology Review via Engadget

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Shower Bay - Portable Shower For Wheelchair Users

picture shows a woman in wheelchair in front of shower bay - a portable shower meant for wheelchair users
Image Source: Shower Bay website

One constant problem that wheelchair users face is the difficulty in maneuvering their wheelchairs in bathrooms to take a shower. This ultimately results in expensive home renovations.

To counter this problem, Russell Simpkins of Forward Day, LLC, and his sister have come up with an extremely innovative product that lets wheelchair users take a shower pretty much anywhere in the house. Shower Bay's design allows for quick assembly in any room of the home, and no tools are required. The unit snaps together, and connects to a standard household faucet. As water enters the unit through a deluxe showerhead, the user can bathe comfortably with or without the assistance of a caregiver. The water is then pumped out of the unit to any nearby household drain. The following image shows Shower Bay assembled in a household bedroom: 

image of shower bay installed in a bedroom
Image source: Shower Bay website

Shower Bay provides a small ramp that allows users to just roll in and out of the shower very easily, thus making the entire process very smooth and safe.

Given the unique safety advantages and the uncompromised showering experience, Shower Bay is the perfect bathing solution for many wheelchair users, including the following:

· Home owners who want to avoid a costly and time-consuming bathroom remodel.

· Renters, who generally cannot modify or remodel their apartment or home.

· Families seeking to avoid the high cost of assisted living facilities and keep their loved ones at home.

· Users whose mobility restricts them to the first floor of a residence (where the home has only a half bath on the first level).

· Families that have a loved one with mobility limitations temporarily stay at their home.

· Individuals who are rehabbing an injury and only need a temporary bathing solution.

· Users planning to change residences, who can move Shower Bay with them to their next home and not worry about remodeling ever again.

Watch the following two videos to see what the Shower Bay experience is like, and how easily it can be installed.

Shower Bay is available for $4200 from its website. There may be financing options available as well.

Website: ShowerBay
Facebook: Shower Bay