Thursday, July 18, 2013

Gaming for the Differently-abled

Invention of computers has changed the way how we play games!!! One we can play football on a computer screen using a joystick and the movements in the game have become pretty similar to the real ones! Computer games are often entertaining and sometimes educational. 

Though there are physical limitations for the people with neurodegenerative diseases, it will be highly possible for them to involve in a video gaming experience! However, specially made equipment may require giving them an equal experience as other users. 

Surprisingly, there is highly plausible research work has been done on this front and there are interesting devices made for this purpose... I am quoting a video by SpecialEffect movement to highlight the various technologies available for the differently-abled.

These appliances most of the time exploit the user's ability to make subtle movements with hands or head or even eye. Brain computer interfaces are also used in some scenarios but it is difficult to see concrete work using such devices in gaming yet. I will outline some projects I came across.

Charity organization devoted to enhance communications of disabled people using latest technology. As they say: "Our mission is to enable anyone, whatever their disability, to enjoy video games and leisure technology."

Joysticks that are customized for low pressure pushes and pulls, tracking of eye gaze and hand movements, joysticks which are controlled using chin movement. As an example, in the following video a boy controls a professional soccer video game easily by modified joysticks and buttons behind his head! Next video shows how to configure these buttons and joystick using simple software and hardware applications.
There is a bunch of such videos on their YouTube channel.

It seems that with few modifications available gaming devices like Nintendo Wii, PS3 and XBox360 can be engineered to be used effectively by a disabled person. Carl Thompson in his inspirational blog points out how he has managed to configure a Nintendo Wii Nunchuk to suit his abilities.This is a simple wooden bar attached to the device - and It Works!!!
Is another charity organization which promotes the idea of accessible video games for the differently-abled. They introduce the concept called "Includification" where they outline guidelines for developers to make games accessible for the differently-abled. They encourage developers to modify their code where a differently-abled person can play the game as equally as a typical gamer.

I have been able to contact the Editor-in-Chief of the AbleGamers foundation - Steve Spohn and will be able to have a Skype chat in the next week. I am planning to get more information on the available devices for the people with disabilities and what are the most suitable games for them. Hope that this interview will enlighten me on this path!!!

Caleb Karft in his interesting blog post describes a controller he has designed for a video game using simple switches and a joystick. The user is able to use a 'lapboard' which is a simple sticky board to position these controllers in convenient location on the board and then keep it on the lap to play the game. He provides and explanation of his work and ideas for further improvement in this video.

Well... It is quite clear that gaming for the differently-abled is a widely discussed topic nowadays. I am hoping to get more concrete information through the interview with Steve. Looking forward!!!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Popular BCI Technologies

ThinkGear AM
This is the application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) module which runs in BCI tools by NeuroSky Inc. It is capable of recognizing brain signals through a dry electrode and then to convert them to 'intents'. It also filters background noises coming from other organs and outside devices. This chipset has been used in number of assistive tools, toys and applications. MindWave, MindSet and Necomimi are most popular by NeuroSky.


This is both an educational and entertainment suite made by NueroSky which can track brain wave patterns and showcase levels of attention with regard to different activities. It is not capable of sending and 'commands' from brain to any device. It only reads mind waves and interpret based on the activity. I am quoting a video of MindWave demo. It would be wise to ignore the promotional aspects and focus on the technology.

MindSet is an advanced version of MindWave where the user has the accessibility to more entertainment options like audio interactions with a PC. The user also can accomplish certain activities like moving virtual objects, shooting objects only by concentrating on the objects.

This product is in fact developed by a different company based on ThinkGear AM chipset. It features a pair of cat ears which responds to 3 specific status of mind. Focused: Ears perk up, In the Zone: Ears wiggle up and down, Relaxed: Ears drop down. Although this is used more in the fashion industry, the idea behind it can be used to assist differently-abled people in controlling devices and even for activities as driving cars as shown in the video to the left.

EPOC is another popular BCI headset developed by Emotive. It uses 16 electrodes to capture brain signals. Unique 'signature' is assigend to well known commands like 'pull', 'push' and 'disappear' after a particular user is trained on such commands. Then they can use this commands to manipulate objects in applications like games.

Emotiv's EPOC BCI Headset

Monday, July 8, 2013

Brain Computer Interfaces

Brain Computer Interfaces (BCIs) are trending communication technologies which are used to enhance Human Computer Interactions of people with severe motor disabilities. Brain–computer interfaces (BCIs) are applications that can translate brain activity into signals that control external devices [1]. A BCI has the ability to detect wave patterns caused in the brain because of neuron activities and to devise the intent of the user. These intents are then can be converted in to real world actions using number of output devices.

BCI devices work based on Neuro-signals: "‘neuro-signal’ refers to a signal related to the brain. A common approach to obtaining neuro-signal patterns is Electroencephalography (EEG). It measures and records neuro-signals using electrodes placed on the scalp [5]. Generally with help of a conductive gel. However, now it is possible to measure EEG without using a gel and by just placing electrodes on the scalp (dry electrodes). This method is obviously more convenient for the user as there is no hassle of wearing a sticky gel for a long time!

There are two (2) types of EEG montages in use: monopolar and bipolar. A monopolar montage is designed to collect signals at an active site of the brain and compares with a common reference electrode. However, it is difficult to find an ideal reference site with the monopolar setup while it can produce more accurate results because of the common reference. In addition, EMG and ECG artifacts which are caused of other organs which emanate similar signals may occur in the monopolar montage. Bipolar montage can compare signals from two active scalp sites. Here the difference of activity between sites are calculated after subtracting the common activity where some information can be lost because of this subtraction.

NeuroSky Inc. which is Silicon Valley based company has been able to produce few dry electrode based consumer BCIs. They have devised non-invasive (no need to pin the electrodes to scalp) and dry (without any liquid) EEG readers which can be used by a typical user [3]. Sensors made by NeuroSky use a monopolar montage where the active site is on the forehead and the reference site is the earlobe [4]. These devices are integrated with software to control diverse appliances in the real world. ThinkGear, MindWave, MindSet, and Necomimi are the most popular BCI tools by NeuroSky. While MindWave, MindSet and Necomimi are wearable devices ThinkGear AM is a chipset which acts as the backbone of all the tools. My next post will dive into the technical details and applicability of these tools!

Left to right: MindWave, MindSet and Necomimi by NeuroSky Inc. (Source:
[1] Cincotti, F., Mattia, D., Aloise, F., Bufalari, S., Schalk, G., Oriolo, G., Cherubini, A., et al. (2008). Non-invasive brain--computer interface system: Towards its application as assistive technology. Brain Research Bulletin, 75(6), 796–803.
[2] NeuroSky Inc. (2009). Brain wave signal (EEG) of NeuroSky, Inc. NeuroSky Inc. Retrieved from
[3] Crowley, K., Sliney, A., Pitt, I., & Murphy, D. (2010). Evaluating a Brain-Computer Interface to Categorise Human Emotional Response. 10th IEEE International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies, 276–278. doi:10.1109/ICALT.2010.81
[4] NeuroSky Inc. (2012). Brainwave Technology. Retrieved July 9, 2013, from

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

What it is about?

This blog is based on a research project aimed at devising a multi-modal interface to improve social communications of Machado-Joseph Disease (MJD) affected people in Groote Elyandt which is an island in Gulf of Carpentaria in north-eastern Australia. Available assistive technologies and social networking tools will be analyzed and combined together to come-up with this platform. However, It is important to understand 'what is already out there' prior developing new communication technologies. 

MJD is known as a Spinocrebellar Ataxia which is charactarized mainly by incoordination of movement. Therefore, MJD patients are often locked to wheelchairs and sadly there is no cure to-date to counter-attack this. While there are research conducted in search of medical cures, it is extremely important to keep the standard of living of MJD affected people at high levels. MJD patient count in Groote Elyandt is 23 and 130 persons are at risk of being affected by MJD [2]. They might face more difficulties than the general population face because of lack of resources in a remote area.

Spinocrebellar Ataxia is one of the main branches of diseases caused by neurodegeneration where nerve cells are destroyed by the time that cannot be ever repaired again unlike other cells in human body [1]. Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Prion disease are few of the other main types of neurodegenerative diseases. While there is limited literature on MJD, there is considerable amount of research done on Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Therefore, looking at communication interventions for patients with such diseases may help the process of helping MJD affected persons in terms of improving social communications.

A main factor to keep in mind is that we are developing these communication mechanisms for culturally distinctive set of people who are living in a remote area of Australia which might lack infrastructure. However, after a thorough analysis of available technologies, it will be possible to adjust these technologies for this population to a considerable level.

Observations and interviews will be carried out with experts to understand the context prior developing any prototype by combining available assistive technologies and social networking tools. This prototype will be tested within a sample group in Brisbane, Australia to gauge the effectiveness and then will be deployed in Groote Elyandt. Feedback of the end users will be used to improve this prototype to acquire the maximum throughput.

[1] EU Joint Programme – Neurodegenerative Disease Research (JPND). (2013). What is neurodegenerative disease? Retrieved July 4, 2013, from
[2] MJD Foundation. (2013). An overview of Machado Joseph disease and the MJD foundation. Retrieved from