Sunday, September 1, 2013

A Chat with an Innovator

I have been lucky to have another interesting chat with an inspiring person - Brett Paulson. He currently works as a computer modeller at the CSIRO. Being a quadreplegic his aims was not only to conquer the routine but to win the street which he has achieved successfully by developing a scooter! This scooter can be controlled by a quadriplegic person who is in a wheelchair. A ramp equipped sidecar provide the access to a wheelchair. Person can controll the scooter from this sidecar as all the controlls are mapped to it. He also maintains a website about sidecar and similar outfits:

I asked him about the development of this scooter. He has used his knowledge in mathematics and computer science to good effect with the help of his mates. I thought this would have been a industry oreinted technical approach. But, he said that it was more of an informal effort amongst the friends. He said they did not recieve any technological assistance from known technological bodies. This notion seems to be interesting as the control of the design entirly lies with the user of the device.

Brett with his scooter

Since my project deals with social networking and gaming aspects, I asked him if he is a frequent user of social networking sites or games. Surprisingly, he was not an enthusiast of those, although he uses email to good efefct to communicate. He mentioned that level of usage of such technologies vary highly upon the personal flavors of each person. As an example a disabled person may rely highly on video games to keep communications whereas another person is quite happy using email and/or telephone to maintain his social network.

He had some useful suggestions for my project also. According to him brainstorming sessions with the users of technology is highly important to get a proper understanding of the background. However, in my case it is difficult to do this as it is almost impossible at this stage to contact the target group because of the distance and cost. Therefore, a feasible solution would be to develop some design based on the literature and showcase it to the target group to recieve theri feedback. Then, it will be possible to make any changes to the design or in fact methodology. Brett noted that there are disabled people who are not aware of the options available. If they get to know them they might "want" to explore them. He said that making this awareness is an essential part of this kind of an endeavour.

Another important thing he mentioned is that it is a good practice to provide more control over design process to the people who will be using the technology as it encompassses sense of security amongst them. Simply: "I am going to use this. Let me build it my own way!". There are some highend designer kits available nowadays like Makey-Makey. However, it is still questionable that if they can be used from the scratch by a person with a disability. My opinion is that a designer is required to minimize the configurations done by the user once the technology is in place. Therefore, I beleive 'something' should be developed which then can be put in to the real context. Designer's task is to increase the flexibility of usage.

He noted that since my project focusses on the area of Groote Eylandt, I may be able to recieve support from engineers who are working in Manganese mines nearby. However, I doubt if they posses the expertise or more importantly time I might require in developing communication technologies. He suggested that tablet computers can be used to a good effect as they are highly popular devices amongst the disabled. He himslef an admirer of his own tablet PC. He mentioned that they are portable, lightweight and possess intuitive interfaces which aid them to communicate easily with minimal limb movements.

It was an inspiring chat with Brett which revealed number of unseen insights. A very big thank you goes to Brett in dedicating his time and effort to have a chat with us - my supervisor also joined! He was kind enough to show us his scooter which he parked at the entrance to the City Botanic Gardens. We had a nice walk with an inspiring character across the garden...

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