Monthly Archives: April 2011

Toby Churchill 2011 Seminar on open innovation and open accessibility

Steve Lee and I attended a fascinating seminar day hosted by Toby Churchill Ltd – a company specialising in AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication).  There were a series of very interesting talks and lots of networking moments.   Meanwhile all the staff were amazingly modest about the fact that during the day the BBC were interviewing some of them, as a result of the company winning the 2011 Queen’s Award For Enterprise, International Trade.

David Collison as Chairman, accompanied his invitation to the day with a series of very apposite questions in relation to our project.

Q: Can these projects (AEGIS & REALISE) use the open source / free software model to avoid duplication and encourage innovation by creating new open standards which will be adopted by industry and seen as valuable by fund holders?

Q: Is it a case of formal standards or would frameworks or guidelines be more useful? Who would create and maintain formal standards?

One common problem with the use of AAC and AT technology is fitting the entire bundle into a single cohesive system for a user with complex needs, not just so that it all works but so that carers and professionals can quickly identify and contact the relevant support teams for each component in that system. It would seem intuitive that a set of standardised, reusable, components which can be selected and arranged to suit the needs of individuals would assist in such problems.

Q: Can industry and academic bodies co-operate in ways to ensure such a standard toolkit can exist at the design stage and would open standards aid or hinder such development?

Inclusive design is not about manufacturers conjuring a model user out of thin air and designing a single product to meet all the needs of that model as has been done in the past Manufacturers already aim, internally, to produce a range of products based on a common core and support the remodelling of those products to further widen the net. To reach the widest market of social need on the basis of inclusive design, a common core could be shared between manufacturers to create products which are versatile and adaptable, rapidly designed and mass market.

Q: Can this work in the AAC market? If not, why not?

Q: What might be the role for standards in defining the common core?

Whilst the open source development model clearly can and does work for software, questions remain about how such standards can be utilised for hardware without making costs prohibitive, especially in small scale, niche, markets like AAC/AT where new technology becomes a medical device with the associated regulatory burdens. There is, therefore, a risk that mainstream hardware supporting the standards-compliant software would make custom hardware even harder to produce.

Q: How are the problems of small scale / high cost production going to impact on the inclusive design of AAC devices? Which parts of AAC can go mainstream and how do manufacturers handle the transition?

With these thoughts in mind we had a series of talks that covered topics from the incubation of new technology in the AT Industry to user perceptions on communication aid design, inclusive design and designing AAC products in the commercial world.  There was also a talk about developing language and communication strategies through AT which highlighted the issues around largely human issues rather than open innovation ones.

All the talks will be available online from Toby Churchill but what really came out during the discussions was how important the user is within the design process and the need for communication at all levels.   Graham Pullin has a book out on the subject of ‘Design meets Disability‘ and discussed the concept of 6 speaking chairs of design in relation to speech and tone and the follow on with Speech Hedge.

One interesting example of crowd sourcing and sub-cultures was discussed –  Kuler – people making a process open – openness in terms of inclusive design –

Would this way of working be possible with AAC and  Assistive Technology?   Being Creative and sharing the results…

What is design? – “it is the combination of artifice with technology the intangible with the unintelligible.” according to David Bisset, Principal Design Consultant at Toby Churchill Ltd – he went on suggest that AAC design goals have these items in common…

  • “Products must efficiently fulfil user need
  • Need to be cost effective to make and maintain
  • Must be reliable and appropriate
  • Must provide value for money.

Commercial Goals

  • Adaptable to different sets of needs.
  • Cover as much of the user spectrum as is viable
  • Keep life cycle costs as low as possible
  • The USP should be clear and communicable
  • Brand enhancing
  • Clear IP ownership”

There followed an ever increasingly complex development process diagram!  David then asked the question…

“Consumer products influence the AAC market – true or false?

  • They do through user expectation – such as slim lightweight products, touch screen, chic,
  • They make other technologies available so they can be incorporated in AAC devices
  • Influence standards, app stores, social networks, etc.

Can consumer products work as AAC products?

  • Sometimes
  • If they fulfil a need
  • In conjunction.

It is about ‘Structural Deepening’

  • Specialist domain knowledge drives technical innovation to improve products with a market niche
  • If the niche is sufficiently specialised the products will take on a unique character for that market
  • That leads to increasing technical complexity as new layers of function are added

In niches all these levels and layers add to the specialist domain knowledge

This is a self organising evolution – The niche becomes deeper -You end up with single companies controlling whole markets.  Designing AAC products require deep domain knowledge.

Designing for AAC users – The designer can’t always assume the customer role. It may not be ethical to run user trials this makes it very hard to establins the right design choices – Appreciating the sensory motor constraints of the AAC iuser is difficult.

Comprehending how a user interface looks can be hard – Does open help?

Open development, open software, open design, open hardware, open standards.

  • Open development works when the people that benefit from the software are the people that write it.
  • This is not applicable in all domains
  • The coincidence of skills is rare.
  • It works well for defined generic technology like Bluetooth
  • Not good for defined technologies

Standards and Approvals. – do we want them for AAC?

How do we make better products?

  • Using better design processes
  • Engaging with users
  • Meeting new needs”

Join the REALISE Market Place! Open innovation for Assistive Technologies

Screen shot RealiseThe team have been working on the final phase of the REALISE Market Place. Recent changes to the website have been the result of our evaluation and discussions both off and on the project Google Group .  Do come and join us there!

The team’s 2 day meeting in March has resulted in the addition of the OSS Watch Openness Rating that is really an experts view on how to rate progress in readiness for a project’s launch onto the Open Source market.   You can now follow this progress once you have signed in.  The latter is possible through a Linkedin account or you can register separately to join REALISE.

Do you have an Idea?

If you have an idea that might help someone who has a disability or help those professionals working in this area of assistive technology – Add it now! Comments can be made about submitted ideas as well as votes if you think there is a good one.  Anyone can take an idea through into the incubator and there you will discover more advice about how to build a community and good governance around the project.

Projects in the Incubator may need both financial and programming skills to take them into the final section under the Projects Tab – Here you will see their Openness Rating once you have selected an individual project,  if it is being carried out.  Code maybe available, licences discussed and websites developed for each project with their own discussion forums and bug tracking sites.  At any stage you can follow progress and become involved whatever your skills. You may be a user offering advice about features, a developer solving particular problems or even someone with a commercial eye who can help sustain a project.

question markFinally we want to generate a series of FAQs to help users.  A small sample of the planned questions are already available under the Resources tab.  Send your queries to the Google Group or add them as comments under the REALISE idea on the actual site or at each stage as we push it into the Incubator and onwards as a living project!

Is the time right for ‘Free and Open source’ Assistive Technology?

circle of arrows

Open Source is about Community (OSSWatch)

In recent months as part of the REALISE project learning curve I have attended several conferences where there appears to be more interest in open source assistive technology and the community around its development.

I am tempted to say this is due to the present economic constraints, and my interest in the subject – weighing up the true nature of each technology against the real costs and suitability for each individual case.  For each project there needs to be a debate around the need for maintenance, training and support as well a healthy developer community to continue to grow the project that supports the application.  In the assistive technology world an example could be NVDA – a screen reader for the blind that has been going since 2006.  The project has had support from companies such as Mozilla,   Yahoo and Adobe.

csun conference

BBC Ouch review of CSUN conference

AT CSUN – California State University Northridge 26th Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference, groups such as GNOME,  Mozilla and Google accessibility communities were discussing their latest ideas around Accessibility, along with the Raising the Floor and with the concept of Building a Global Public Inclusive Infrastructure (GPII) “to make development, delivery and use of access technologies and services easier, less expensive, and more effective.”   There were several talks about specific open source AT projects including one give by Paul Lloyd (download .docx) who mentioned Android products such as Project Eyes Free and The vOICe.

Trinity College

Trinity College, Oxford

The second conference I attended was Open Source Junction run by OSS Watch in collaboration with 100% Open.  This conference was not specifically about accessibility or assistive technology, but it turned out that a fifth of delegates had links with assistive technology and two were from companies selling these products – Iansyst and Toby Churchill.  Three of the REALISE team will be attending the Toby Churchill seminar day on the subject next week.

The discussion at ‘Open Junction‘ was around mobile technologies and it is interesting to note the divide that is appearing between apps specific to an operating system and web based apps that are cross platform compatible and largely work with Webkit which can be totally accessible.   Julian Harty from ebay very kindly shared his work in the field and was looking for a community of developers to help out with his work on Android Daisy e-pub reader.

Nick Allott, Director of Nquiring Minds Ltd also discussed his work on the Webinos project that has just released a report which aimed to survey and assess:

1. The platform and application technologies that are relevant to home media devices, automotive, mobile and PC tablet distributions

2. The IPR and governance frameworks that underpin many of the organisation and open source initiatives that are significant in this space.

The conference summary said that the benefits to attending were to:

  • become familiar with the basics of open innovation in software

There were several really  useful talks on this subject and slides are available on the subject of ‘Processes and tools for open development collaboration’

  • explore partnership opportunities relevant to the cross-platform mobile apps space

This came out in several presentations and these can be found under the various headings on the programme page

  • join a community of industry-academic practitioners interested in pooling resources for co-developing mobile open source software

Certainly there was plenty of time for networking and finding out more about other projects.

  • find out about successful software partnerships created via open innovation

Several successful partnerships between organisations were presented and the speaker list shows who was involved.

  • have your say in setting up an industry-academia open source mobile community
2 minute clock

Seconds to go!

Finally, there were several chances to present ideas and take part in Open Source Junction speed-date!

Is the time right?  Well it is coming …