Trinity research engineers develop app to help people with intellectual disabilities
20th December, 2017
Simple pleasures that we take for granted - like heading into town to meet a friend, or using an app to point the way to a popular new restaurant - have long since represented impossibilities for many people living with an intellectual disability (ID). But thanks to a new smart tech solution called waytoB, developed by Talita Holzer Saad and Robbie Fryers, research engineers in the School of Enginering, a whole host of opportunities offering unparalleled levels of independence are on the horizon.
You can read more about waytoB at: https://waytob.com/
In Ireland, the number of people recorded in Census 2011 as having an intellectual disability was more than 60,000, with estimates putting the number globally as high as 200 million. A major problem for this user group is finding their way without assistance. It prevents a large number of people from doing things on their own, even in adulthood, as navigation tools are not appropriate for them due to their complicated interface.
waytoB is set to change all that. The solution lets a carer/partner to pre-programme set routes on a smartphone or desktop, which allows the smartwatch to elegantly guide the wearer via turn by turn directions. This is possible due to a visual and haptic language co-developed by the researchers and the users. The person navigating only sees a highly simplified and intuitive interface and receives directions (arrows and icons associated with audio and vibration) based on their orientation, which means no map-reading is required. The app also integrates walking instructions with public transport and allows a carer to live-track the user’s location, heart-rate and battery usage. If the user deviates from his/her path, or his/her heart-rate elevates to a certain level indicating stress or anxiety, the waytoB system will notify the carer and immediately establish user-carer contact via a phone call.
waytoB was invented by Talita Holzer Saad and Robbie Fryers, two recent engineering graduates from Trinity College Dublin, who now work as research engineers within the School. The pair won the Irish leg of the 2017 James Dyson Award earlier this year for their work on waytoB. They were also selected to be part of The Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Academy and won the Universal Design Grand Challenge from the National Disability Authority in 2016.
Talita said: “Every aspect of the solution was conducted by the process of user-centred design, which means that our users not only validated the solution, but guided its development. By using this approach and following the principles of Universal Design, we have developed a product that efficiently addresses this fundamental need.” The duo has also talked to many stakeholders to understand their needs and get feedback, such as family members, educators, researchers and service providers. “From the point of view of the service providers, it will be hugely beneficial. If you take, for example, a unit for supported employment, where job coaches accompany and drive the service users to every location, I think waytoB could be employed as a tool in that area and it would reduce the need for such intense use of personnel.” said Una Healy, from Sunbeam House Services.
Declan Moore, a Regional Director with St. John of God was impressed with how easy-to-use waytoB is: “Given the simple user friendly nature of the application and associated hardware, it may be difficult to appreciate the quite profound difference that the product could make for so many of our service users, and people with a range of other disabilities across Ireland, at a minimum.”
Thirty-seven-year-old Patrick O’Shea from Malahide has Down Syndrome and is one of the pilot testers for the product, which is being trialled since the beginning of 2017. His father, Pat, says Patrick would not be able to navigate certain routes without it. “Patrick is very comfortable using the app, he’s always asking me to use it so he can be more independent and go to town on his own. He really likes to go out by himself, go to the pictures and have his lunch without assistance, and this is vitally important. The beauty of it is also that I can track him to make sure he’s okay and we can contact each other quickly.”
Talita and Robbie are now further developing the product based on user feedback, and hope to launch the final market version in Ireland and in the UK in 2019. The team has very recently secured significant funding from Enterprise Ireland, which will sustain the project for the next two years. Robbie said: “We really believe we have the basis for a very important product that could have a huge impact on many lives. We look forward to bringing our platform to market with the support of Enterprise Ireland.”
waytoB was developed with support from the Dean’s Research Initiative Fund (Faculty of Health Sciences, Trinity College Dublin), and under guidance from Assistant Professor Kevin Kelly, Assistant Professor John Dinsmore (PI), Professor Mary McCarron, and Professor Philip McCallion (Co-PIs). Trinity’s Schools of Engineering, and Nursing and Midwifery (Trinity Centre for Practice and Healthcare Innovation and IDS-TILDA), provided additional support.