Mobile gadgets assisting older people and disabled at home


MOBILE TECHNOLOGY:COMMON MOBILE gadgets are being used to improve the independence of disabled and older people in their homes and their ability to communicate with others.

Computer scientists at Technabling Ltd, a spin-out company of the University of Aberdeen, have developed a number of assistance systems based on affordable everyday technology.

One example is a portable sign-language translator that can be used on any device with a built-in camera such as a mobile phone or tablet. The translator views sign language through the camera and converts it to text, enabling on-the-fly communication with non-sign-language users.

It is the first device in the world to feature customised signs for specific user needs, allowing the user to create unique signs for work-related jargon or complex concepts they may need to use, Dr Ernesto Compatangelo, director of Technabling, told a session at the Festival of Science in Aberdeen.

A related application of the technology is that signs and gestures can be customised to operate appliances and devices in the home – from opening curtains to switching on the TV.

“For some people, hand gestures are the only way of interacting with the environment around them because of speech impairments and reduced mobility, as a result of illness or an accident,” he said. “In the same way as they use sign language to communicate with others, they can now use hand gestures to control the environment.”

Further sensors can be installed to monitor well being and serve as an alert service to carers or the emergency services. The system is undergoing trials and the cost of fitting out a home might range from €1,250 depending on the number of sensors involved.

Becca Wilson is a British Science Association Media Fellow at The Irish Times