Last Iterations, Business Ideas for open source AT and Dissemination.

Business case for closed and open innovationThis last month has been very busy with new additions to the REALISE market place and discussions around the business case for open source AT illustrated in the two Powerpoint slides made by team member,  Peter Cudd. The first looks at the idea of offering some sales, support and services as a way of sustaining a project with some research and development plus consultancy and the second slide shows the option of much more research and consultancy with some support and services, whereas the closed innovation usually depends on large sales and less on  support and services.

business case for open innovation

There are several blogs on the subject for general open source software but rarely articles that relate to Assistive Technology that also discuss matters around the business case other than to say there are an increasing number of people who will need to use assistive technologies in the future.

However, one particular article written by Fernando Botelho (who works with groups in low income areas across the world)  makes for an interesting read – “Open Source Software-Based Assistive Technologies“(download PDF) He comments that: “Ease of localization and low cost are the most widely mentioned reasons for choosing open source software solutions but they are not the most important ones. While the viability of localization for languages that are not very profitable would indeed be very difficult to replicate in closed source models, the cost of proprietary solutions can be made irrelevant in the short term through donations or substantial discounts.  In this regard two important considerations come to mind: First, donations of proprietary assistive technology software are never made in a large enough volume to actually reach a large portion of the population that needs the technology; and second, governments, foundations, and NGOs need assurance that an investment made in training today will still be relevant in a decade or two and only open source models ensure that.”

One of the issues facing users of open source assistive technology nearer home is training and support for these products and it seems that there really needs to an increased amount of ‘awareness raising’ to fill the gap as an increasing number of open source assistive technologies come to market.  We are beginning see these ideas turn to viable projects on the REALISE market place and this will be discussed at the JISC RSC Scotland NE Open Education event in Edinburgh on May 20th, 2011.  Download or view the PowerPoint slides on SlideShare – Realise project introduction

View more presentations from E.A. Draffan.

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 …

Meeting 10/11th March – Minutes with Agenda included

So  much seems to have happened during the two days of meetings that it is going to be hard to put it into one blog so I am going to divide it up by topics with reflection on the discussions as I go.   The delay in putting up the minutes has been due travelling to the USA in between and learning more about open innovation whilst at a disability conference.


Thursday 10th March began with Ross providing an overview of OSS Watch Openness Rating with a set of slides that included suggestions for how projects can be evaluated for their majurity. (Download PowerPoint slides titled Openness Rating as a Guide to Project Maturity)

This was incredibly helpful as it enabled us to discuss the various elements that needed to be in place in order to engage a community and provide sufficient information for a project to gain traction as well as possibly find a way to be sustainable.

This was followed by examples of how far three of us got along the route of openness using three different case studies.

Case Studies

Used the Openness rating at

Taken from slides

Peter went through the whole process and was able to show the elements of the Openness Rating that would be important to a new comer to the site.  It also enabled us to discuss the important areas that required more guidance as to what someone putting up a project might need.  This was later illustrated when Garry Paxton (on the Advisory Group) began the process with ‘Picboard’ and sent us an e-mail with queries such as ‘needing more feedback’ and ‘where to go to next’?  The Incubator has a number of full and basic requirements that still need to be added.

  • EA – Atbar goes East – SME wishing to take it forward.  Here the idea was that a company may take over the toolbar and wish to make money from it – which licence would be best?  Once again the questions became more complex and it was clear we needed to add some items to the community and governance documentation to clarify items.
  • Steve – MAAVIS – expert developer explained how he had taken the project through the process and how the community was now developing as can be seen from the MAAVIS website.

Steve explained how

●The Openness Rating is a metric
●Guides mentoring – not primary a self-service tool
●Used repeatedly (cf OSS Watch support plan)
●Measures current  status
●Allow gaps to be identified and addressed
Questions for the next section…

●What else do we need to do with REALISE and ATBar  to make a good fit with the Community Explorer and Licence Evaluator?
●How do we use the Openness Rating to guide mentoring and complete the first cycle with present projects?
●How do we facilitate effective mentoring?

Agenda and Minutes from the Virtual Team Meeting Feb 23rd 2pm (Skype)

OSSWatch opennessThe Agenda for this month’s meeting picks up on all the comments we have been collecting around the Prototype of the REALISE Market Place and was kept short – In fact it was further curtailed by various Skype issues – rain on the line to one particular part of the country possibly!

  • Apologies –

None just periodic absences due to Skype

Mike and E.A. fed back comments from the online meeting and discussed future contact with ‘Critical friends’ and Punam Khosla from JISC TechDis regarding the stakeholder aspects of the project.

Ross explained how he felt there were still several changes to be made to the Market Place.

There were questions around IP and Copyright – some questions could be added to the Community Explorer tool – SL

traffic lightsDiscussions around traffic lights, complexity and people could be heard in between silence.  It soon became clear that a dodgy Skype line was not going to solve all the queries that were cropping up.  it was decided at this point  that it was crucial to go through the OSSWatch Openness Rating mentioned within the Software Sustainability Maturity Model. Three possible projects were chosen as case studies and a meeting will be held at the University of Southampton on 10/11th March 2011 to go through the items in detail. In the meantime any bugs, ideas or features could be listed on the REALISE Software configuration management site

The remaining items on the Agenda will be discussed during the two days. RG. SL, PC, SS, MW, EAD

  • Link up with groups – confirm names and ways of making more business links
  • Feedback from KT-Equal
  • AAATE and other conferences and workshops
  • AOB

Date of next face to face meeting 10/11th March, 2011 at University of Southampton.

REALISE prototype

REALISE web pageIt is hoped the Realise Market place for open source assistive technology projects can explore the idea of open innovation whilst also linking to all the community features mentioned by Paul Osman in his blog about the latest version of Mozilla Drumbeat.  As Peter Cudd – a team member has said the aim is for  REALISE to be “a free on-line tool to help people develop new software technologies that make using the Internet, computers and mobile devices easier for people who struggle with these systems. We hope that people who need this kind of help or their carers and professionals that supply or make these kinds of technology will all join in.

How it works : Realise is completely open, everyone who uses the site can see what everyone else has entered and anyone can enter ideas. The ideas can be from someone saying “I need help with a problem” or someone suggesting a solution. Other people can then comment on the idea. If enough people show an interest in an idea and someone wants to take the idea forward it can be changed and move into what we have called the ‘incubator’.

In the incubator a group with a possible leader tries to get a ‘project’ going – that is one or more developers designing a solution whilst working with those who submitted an idea or problem. When it comes to considering the idea as a project it may or maynot be funded at this stage.  The projects will normally be open and have their own on-line website and network of interested people especially those trialling the outcomes.

At any stage commercial companies or researchers can become involved and may often lead at the incubator or project stages. In the end companies may make money out of a project but will need to keep to any agreements during the development stages.

Researchers may show their interest by suggesting and developing solutions and by offering to collect evidence that solutions do in fact work. ”

Please go ahead and try the REALISE site and let us know if you wish to see additional features or have any problems with access. Please bear in mind this is very much work in progress and you may like to join us in the discussions we are having on our REALISE Google Group

Minutes from the Skype team meeting 14th January, 2011

This meeting aimed to resolve the issues discussed in December and to allow us to move from phase three of the project to phase four in the coming months.

  • Apologies

There were no apologies for this meeting and Peter, Mike, Seb and E.A began the discussions and were later joined by Steve and Ross so the agenda switch around a little.

  • Minutes from last meeting –

These were discussed in relation to the other agenda items.

  • JISC Interim report

This was discussed and has now been filled in on-line.

  • AAATE paper

Peter to start and lead on paper for AAATE with the rest of the team contributing. Paper will be based on the Realise team discussions.

  • Market place and plans for Phase 4

This formed the major part of the discussion and related to the meeting held in December with the Advisory Group.

Batacuda screenshot

realise web page

Market Place

Drumbeat and Batacuda
Phase 3  to Phase 4 of the REALISE project requires that we make the marketplace available to the community very soon and Batacuda/Drumbeat is currently really not realistically able to satisfy all the requirements mentioned below in the next two months. We have found that as Drumbeat has so many projects it can be slow to navigate, the tagging system is huge which makes it hard to navigate when using screen reader software and there do not appear to be any search features. We will continue to monitor the situation as we really want to collaborate with the community as one of the possible ways we may achieve sustainability of the project.

New features required in the release version are:

  • Logins with more social networks plus picture log in from MAAVIS
  • 5 checks for moving between idea to incubator then 5 checks to move to project with a button to move to each stage.
  • Change the front page to have the content seen when logged in plus an easy to read explanatory paragraph – Peter and EA
  • Link Steve and Ross toolkits from Incubator.
  • Tagging related to what is available on EmpTech and include ‘other’
  • Button to show what open source software is available and link tags so just show what relates to the actual idea or project added to the market place.
  • Resources Tab – this will contain links to documents and sites that are useful to stakeholders.

Prepare for phase 4

Connection with users and businesses – need a user friendly article for AbilityNet and general publicity – Peter and EA to collaborate.

Great Oaks school teaching assistants therapists. SCOPE, BBC OUCH, University of 3rd Age and UK Online centres,  Sheffield 50plus users and Remap contact and D4D

Forum lists SENIT, Disforum, Assistech etc once article in AbilityNet is available.

  • Next meeting

Skype call – 2.00 p.m. 23rd February, 2011

Agenda for January 14th, 2011 Skype meeting.

The year has begun with a continued discussion on our Google group around the development of the REALISE Market Place linking with the minutes of the last meeting, alongside ideas for long term sustainability within the Mozilla Drumbeat Community.


  • Apologies
  • Minutes from last meeting
  • JISC Interim report
  • AAATE paper
  • Market place and plans for Phase 4
  • AOB
  • Next meeting

Update and Minutes taken from the Advisory Group Meeting

snow on pondThe weather around the country did not prevent the members of the REALISE team meeting in Southampton – luck was on our side that it was on 1st Dec and not the 2nd! This is the view from my kitchen this morning!

We were also lucky to have Lester Gilbert, Gary Wills and Nasser Siabi as CEO of MicrolinkPC,a company supplying and supporting users of Assistive Technologies and Mike Littler to represent assessors of Assistive Technology.  Apologies were received from Garry Paxton, Clare Chiba, Prof. Mark Hawley and Prof Lynn Martin.

Peter Cudd presented an overview of the project (PowerPoint video) and this complements the overview provided by Mike Wald at the Support and Synthesis meeting (video and notes) on 12th November, 2010.  This was follwed by Ross Gardler’s workshop launching the online OSSWatch licencing differentiator tool that is designed to aid developers when making choices about the licencing of open source software.  This is a very complex subject, but it is now possible to learn how to make a more informed choice as a result of working through a series of questions with explanations to guide the user.  Ross is keen for a further discussion to take place around this online tool which is one of the outcomes for the REALISE project. Please use this blog for comments or our Project-Realise Google group

One of the discussion points over lunch was to try to embed this Google group within our website – this is the REALISE market place for future ideas, project incubation and spin offs.

Again feedback is needed for this part of the project in the spirit of co-design and open innovation! Everyone is welcome to contribute.

As timings for the day went a little awry lunch was taken up with further discussion around the differentiator tool and then Steve Lee presented his online Community Explorer tool. This is once again in draft mode and we are sharing this so that everyone can see how the market place will contain some really useful tools for users.   More advice will be added to this tool in the future with pointers being available from Steve’s discussion today around Community and Governance (video with Synote transcription) with a few remaining MSc students at the University of Soutampton before the university closed for the day.

As for the key points mentioned in the previous blog:

  • Try and connect tools that already exist including finding out existing projects

The tools mentioned once again included Mozilla Drumbeat Barracuda and on Monday at RAATE several other sites were mentioned including  Kickstarter, Donationcoder and specifically for ideas around AT there is Enabled by Design just for starters. This all ties up with our wish to “Keep it simple so tools don’t get in the way – in particular the online market place”

  • Focus on people rather than tools and keep the language around Assistive Technology easy to understand

Peter mentioned this in his discussion with links to Devices for Dignity and by the end of the day Ross pointed out how important it will be to engage through carers and assessors as they may lead us to more ideas from users as well as linking up with charities and other organisations.

  • Login – is it neceassary – via Linkedin? Facebook? Google, OpenID – lazy login, no login?

The debate continues as to whether a login is really necessary and at what stage – at present – we may have to have a poll on this one but the preference is to leave it all as open as possible.

  • How do we link developers, business and users?

By the end of the afternoon it was clear that we could have a case study of a particular group to illustrate how business can be linked to the carers and assessors and so to the users with the support of Nasser and MicrolinkPC with Mike Littler. It would be good to have other examples of how this open innovation could work.

  • Is it important to have a separate AT community? Or to join mainstream communities?

This quandary was clearly illustrated in a BBC news item this morning about mainstream technologies being used with disabled individuals to provide independence.

  • Terminology for the main tabs…. Incubator works in Italian – incubator (for eggs, baby)  incubatrice  f Translation English – Italian Collins Dictionary

It became clear in the discussion that people may not have a notion around an ‘idea’ for a project or program but they would have a notion around a problem or need and that we need to offer examples and include this type of language on the initial pages for the Market place.

  • Timing of when an idea moves into the incubator remains uncertain but it was agreed a summary must be added when the move occurs

This was extended to the view that you could dip into the market place at any stage and there may even be commercial AT products that had been abandonned and could be revived under an open source banner.

The meeting ended early as the snow was threatening and is still continuing as I type this up!  Thank you so much to everyone who made it and we plan to have our next Advisory Group meeting when Spring has arrived!

snowy garden