InvoTek was asked to help Alison communicate with family and friends after she sustained a brainstem stroke in March of 2012. Alison has some thumb, “pinky” finger, and foot movement, but no other movement or speech.
After evaluating Alison’s abilities and consulting with her rehab therapists, our best option seemed to be Alison’s foot movement. While timing movements was very difficult for her, she was able to move her foot enough that we thought a foot-controlled joystick was possible. We tried this and while there was some promise, Alison’s abilities varied from day to day and the access method was not reliable for her. Her rehab therapists tried automatic scanning, but that also was not reliable. Eventually we settled on a step scanning approach using her thumb and pinky fingers (photo A), and built a PVC mount for the two switches that was adjustable (photo B). Alison is very successful using these switches and blogs regularly (see www.hopeforalison.org).
One of the shortcomings of the PVC system is that Alison has to be precisely positioned in order to activate the switches. Small hand movements caused by things like coughing make it impossible for her to control the switches. Also, the switches are not practical when she is in bed because of positioning challenges. To address these issues, Ethan, a "then" student, "now" full-time InvoTek employee, created a noncontact system for Alison as his Master’s thesis in engineering (Photo C). The new system, affectionately called “Alison’s Barking Dog” senses thumb movement regardless of Alison’s positioning and sends a bluetooth signal to an Android tablet. The tablet then sends a text to Alison’s husband (or any other caregiver) and causes an alarm to sound. The sound we picked for the alarm was a barking dog!
Work continues on this system. Alison’s finger movement abilities have improved, probably because of all the blogging she does. She can now use her finger movements with the PVC system to steer a wheelchair! We are presently working on enabling her to do so with with the non-contact switch system. We have also submitted a proposal to obtain SBIR funding to make the non-contact system usable for others besides Alison.