Tools for perception

November 23, 2008

I spent some of the week in Chicago for American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA) national convention.

I saw this at the convention hall and I thought it was a fitting thing to have in the “Windy City.”

Anemometer in the Windy City

Anemometer in the Windy City

This got me thinking about how our tools affect our perceptions.

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Video game brainstorm

November 15, 2008

I’m throwing this out there with no claim to copyright. Anyone who wants to take this and run with it is free to do so.

Time for a remake of Hunt the Wumpus (more precisely, Be the Wumpus)

Screenshot of Be the Wumpus gameplay.

Screenshot of Be the Wumpus gameplay.

My imaginary version is:

WiiWare download.

Full stereo support. With doppler and echo physics.

Don’t forget the Wiimote has its own speaker. (Sonar? Ping and echo?)


The Wiimote is getting a gyroscope for full-motion detection.

Environmental sound effects to create and navigate a map.

No graphics. Maybe not a blank screen, but the visuals don’t impact gameplay. This is a tactile- and audio-only game.

Wumpus, in my mind, is just an experiment of the mechanics. Ideally what I’d like is to make a multiplayer First Person Shooter that could be played blind. Anyone who’s ever played Counterstrike or Unreal Tournament (or even Mario Kart in versus mode) knows how much fun it is to blow up friends. Unfortunately, this is a pleasure mostly unavailable to people who are blind. (There are audio-only games available. I just don’t believe any of them are multi-player frag-fests.)

I mention Counterstrike in particular above because the audio in that game is particularly important to gameplay.

If you could get the sonar mechanic right and the audio physics designed correctly, it would be possible to make a maze-running, multi-player deathmatch without any visuals.

“Howler” siren

November 14, 2008

Associated Press is reporting that the largest ambulance company in Oklahoma is outfitting their entire fleet of emergency vehicles with a new type of siren that you can feel as well as hear. It uses ultra-low frequency sound that can penetrate into cars to get the attention of drivers on phones or listening to music at earsplitting levels.


Have you ever been passed by a car that had the bass amps cranked up so much you could feel the music? It’s like that, only less musical and more sireny.

Press release.

Whelen Engineering’s product page for the Howler siren.

<tangent>I used to be a firefighter, and I can’t wait until I get out of grad school and have a normal job so I can go back to doing it again. Firefighters and EMTs have really cool stuff.</tangent>

Anyway, while this is meant to get the attention of hearing people who aren’t paying attention, I don’t think you need to try very hard to think of some safety applications of tangible sound for people with hearing impairments.

Playstation 3 controller

November 11, 2008

This is the sort of thing that exemplifies why I started a blog.

Kotaku reported on a homebrew PS3 controller for a gamer who has a disability.

Here is the inventor/user’s (KitsuneNoYume) post on the Playstation forums. KitsuneNoYume uses 16 switches simultaneously. These are all wired to a circuit board culled from a Playstation controller.

The device was designed by KitsuneNoYume himself and assembled by Mark Felling of GimpGear.

This rig runs a Playstation 3

This rig runs a Playstation 3

The whole rig in use

The whole rig in use

Adapted controllers for video games. That’s new, right?

Not really, check out this 1989 ad for a controller for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

NES Hands Free Controller

NES Hands Free Controller

Chin joystick with sip and puff for A, B, Select, and Start. I’ve seen one of these in real life used by probably the most hardcore Tetris player I’ve ever met.

Funny that Nintendo hasn’t used their new-found interest in unconventional controllers to make the Wii more accessible.


November 9, 2008

The Strong National Museum of Play has inducted The Stick into the Toy Hall of Fame.

a well-deserved honor

a well-deserved honor

The best-designed toys are the ones that aren’t designed at all.

Walking assist

November 7, 2008

I’m way behind on my posting.

Remember all those walking robots that the Japanese have been so obsessed with all these years? Journalists took pictures and many people just rolled their eyes condescendingly. “Oh, you can make it dance? Cool, I guess.”

Once you’ve gotten the biomechanics of walking figured out, you can build something like this:

Honda walking apperatus

Honda walking apparatus


Honda walking apparatus

While Honda built these to reduce employee injuries at their car factories, this tech may be usable in the future by people with  muscle weakness such as those with spinal injuries or MS.

Link to Honda’s publicity blurb on the device.

Here is an older prototype that was demonstrated earlier this year at the International Trade Fair on Barrier Free Equipments & Rehabilitation for the Elderly & the Disabled.

Random musing. How do cultural factors affect acceptance of assistive technologies and people with disabilities in general?

The Japanese as a society love gadgets more Americans (you should see the phones they’ve got there compared to here), but Americans are generally more accepting of people with disability on an everyday basis than the Japanese.

(edited to add) Wait, there’s more!

Voting 2

November 7, 2008

The majority of Americans with disabilities are not registered to vote. I was trying to find some statistics to post here, but there is not a lot of research on the topic, either.

Early VotingWhen I was in New Hampshire, the entrance to the polling place I voted at had stairs and no ramp into the building. The exit, however, had a concrete ramp. So in order for a person who could not climb stairs to vote (and I did witness this with one senior citizen who used a walker) that person would have to go in the out door, which left him or her on the wrong side of all the registration tables. The traffic flow was only suitable for one-way traffic.

A better-designed layout would have had a traffic flow that had people going in the ramp door and out down the stairs. This still means that a person not using the stairs would have to go against the flow of traffic to leave.

The reason this is preferable is to accommodate people who might have cognitive or communication impairments in addition to a physical disability. The flow of the room should make it easy to determine what to do without having to ask. If nothing else, one could imitate the person ahead of you in line, something I do as a nondisabled person put in a new or unfamiliar situation all the time.

In the place I voted in PA, there was only one door so everyone had to go against the flow of traffic to leave. It wouldn’t have been any more awkward for someone in a wheelchair, scooter or with a walker than for anyone else. (If I were running that polling place, I would have still turned the check-in tables ninety degrees do direct flow better, but it was functional the way it was).
Some technology after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

So, in addition to my usual PhD stuff keeping me from updating this blog, I’ve also been dealing with a broken rib that I sustained in a bike crash.


This causes me extreme pain whenever I

  • move
  • lay down
  • sit up
  • switch from any of laying down, sitting up, or standing to any of the others.
  • sneeze (oh my God, especially when I sneeze)
  • reach for anything with my right hand (like my mouse or keyboard)

Lessons learned from this experience:

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