Autism Society Philippines, in cooperation with DLSU College of Computer Studies and National Council on Disability affairs held Next-Gen Adaptive and Assistive Technologies for PWDs last July 19 at the DLSU Yuchengco Hall.
Held in commemoration of the Philippine National Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation Week, the event gathered the country’s leading technologists, professionals and disability advocates to discuss robotics for autism therapy, social stories applications, emphatic spaces, bio-inspired prosthetics, and proximity sensors.
Ms. Mona Magno-Veluz, President of Autism Society Philippines, opened the event and hosted the panel discussions.
From Reel to Real: Science Fiction-inspired Research in Human and Robotic Touch
Dr. John Cabibihan, Associate Professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at Qatar University, visited the event to share the latest advances in human and robotic touch inspired by science fiction.
Custom Built Fingers via Remote Collaboration
What do you do if you lose a finger or limb but the experts who can build the prosthetics for you are half way across the globe? Skype? Well, not exactly. Dr. Cabibihan shared their unique approach using CT Scans and photos of both hands sent over the internet to build tailor-made prosthetics. While we still can’t beam the new prosthetic over, this is a step forward towards a future just like in the TRON movie.
Replicating the Human Touch
We’ve long recognized the comforting effect of a human touch. But can we replicate that feeling from a robotic hand? Dr. Cabibihan explained how they tackled the challenges of finding the design that best simulated the softness of a human hand. They tried artificial hands with skeletons and without skeletons and ran tests to see the difference.
The verdict? In one experiment, there were no significant differences between the heart rates of those touched by their loved ones and those touched by a robot hand while watching an emotional scene in a movie. Remotely comforting loved ones is now totally possible.
One of Star Wars’ most iconic scenes is Luke Skywalker’s cybernetic hand. Dr. Cabibihan explained how touch perception is going to be an essential aspect of developing such a hand. Without the perception of touch, a robotic hand wouldn’t be able to control the needed pressure leading to crushed eggs, for example.
Agents to Robots: Supporting Inclusion of People with Special Needs
Mr. Clement Y. Ong, Assistant Professor and Head of the Center for Automation Research at De La Salle University, gave a rundown of the Center’s projects with an aim to supporting people with special needs through computer agents that can perceive its environment through sensors and act upon its environment.
Progressio is a web-based progress monitoring app that lets teachers and parents communicate via online reports. It has a live video stream for the parent to see how their child is doing in their environment with a feature for hotspots to mark emotionally charged moments in the stream.
Recupera is a home-based post-stroke rehabilitation system designed for use with Microsoft Kinect. It gives instructions to people recovering from a stroke and use its sensors to check if the person is not doing it properly, e.g. not raising arms enough. It gamifies the experience to make it more engaging and produces reports on the person’s progress.
Adventures of Ellie
Adventures of Ellie is like a story game where children can simulate social actions and interactions. For example, the game will ask the child situational questions like “Will you push the child off a slide or wait your turn?” and see their responses.
Sharlotte is a platform for human-robot interaction that can recognize human gestures and respond with a simple greeting or mimick the gesture. It’s intended to be used to aid the development of children with special needs through a follow-the-leader type of game.
People with speech impairment have difficulties communicating with health care providers. The SIGMA project developed a glove that the hearing-impaired person can wear and the system will translate the gestures into words.
Speech Training Feedback Software
Mr. Ong also shared the Speech Training Feedback Software that uses the color spectrum to visualize phoneme pronunciations. The system assists hearing impaired children in learning basic phonetic sounds.
Social Robots and Wearable Sensors as Assistive Tools for Autism Intervention
Dr. Cabibihan also talked about his work on robotics for autism intervention.
Robots for Early Autism Diagnosis
Not all disabilities are physical. Autism is a lifelong, developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them.
Dr. Cabibihan shared his work exploring the use of robots to diagnose autism by looking at physical behaviors like eye contact, nodding, and distance.
Gesture Training for Children with Autism
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) tend to have difficulties expressing themselves, leading to meltdowns. Dr. Cabibihan explained how robots can be used to teach gestures to children with ASD. One big advantage of robots is that their simplified nature can prevent overstimulation, which can lead to problems in those with ASD.
Panel Discussion: Philippine Context
Advocates and technologists took questions from the audience to discuss the challenges and approaches towards building an inclusive future for persons with disabilities.
- Dr. John Cabibihan, Qatar University
- Ms. Pauline and Christina Guanzon, Founders of EARS
- Mr. Clement Ong, DLSU
- Dr. Merlin Teodosia Suarez, DLSU
Advocates for PWDs:
- Dr. Penny Bundoc, Rehabilitation Medicine
- Dr. Catherine Deen, Higher Learning
- Ms. Mona Veluz, Autism Inclusion Advocacy (Moderator)
- Mr. Zaldy Sanchez, IECD Chief, National Council on Disability Affairs
What’s important in developing solutions for PWDs?
- A – appropriate – to make it appropriate you have to go down to the stakeholders – parents of disabled children, service providers
- A – affordable – should be a “must have” not a “nice to have”
- A – accessible – everything is in metro manila; what about the people in Visayas; what about the people in Mindanao?
Dr. Merlin Suarez emphasized the importance of needs-driven research to ensure that the time and resources spent really help towards building solutions that people can actually use.
For example, the number one disability is vision, and yet very few solutions are being aimed at vision impairment. There’s a big divide between the perceived need and the actual need.
Getting government support
To get government support, the advocates it’s very important for the research to back up the devices.
On communicating with the public
It’s difficult to reach out because we have difficulty explaining ourselves; There’s a huge disconnect between the words we use. “It’s difficult with the workload of academe to reach out,” she said.
Is there a market for PWD solutions?
According to Dr. Cabibihan, there’s definitely a demand for prosthetics based on his experience receiving emails from strangers asking for prosthetic limbs. The panelists also believed that there is a huge market for robotics for children, as well as, robotics for the elderly.
How do we bring the cost down?
Dr. Cabibihan: “We need to have continuous discourse on these technologies so that we elevate it. There are technologies, they exist, and we can use them. But we need to increase the knowledge for them, support, so that there comes a point where it becomes cheap.”
What are the challenges in ASD?
We don’t understand their world because we don’t understand how to teach ASD. There’s a great lack of demystification videos.
The needs of Filipino people with disabilities are great. There’s great opportunity for the technologists — students and professionals in the fields of computer science, mechanical engineering, software engineering and allied medical science — to address needs of these people and in the process, develop solutions that can also impact the whole of humanity.
Imagine a future where every person, regardless of their disability, can use technology to gain an equal footing and participate fully in society. Let’s start building that future.