Jul 27, 2013

Drawing with Sounds, an Interactive Musical Drawing App Created with Processing

This is my first creation using the Drawing with Sounds application. This cause and effect application was created with Processing 1.5.1 and produces musical sounds and patterns, along with random abstract shapes that are triggered through movements of a mouse. The application has been adapted for switch users, making it accessible to those who have motor impairments.

Processing is an open-source programming and integrated development environment that was build on the Java programming that has been easy to learn by people who have limited technical backgrounds. It is used by people from from a range of fields, such as art, music, journalism, and data visualization.

The fact that Processing is easy to use makes it great for people with just a little bit of coding knowledge to adopt a variety of open-source applications and tweak a few of the variables to according to the need.   Using the Drawing with Sounds app as an example, I wanted to change the size of the interactive canvas.  By typing in a few keystrokes,  I changed the original size of the screen from 800 x 800 to something larger, as shown below:

I then typed in another variable for the background color, and was pleased with the results:

The application was developed from Andrew R. Brown's tutorial on "SoundCipher", based on the SoundCipher library for Processing.  According to the description of the application, "The sketch is intended for use....as a sensory stimulus using sound, shape and color to create engagement". 

Below is a videoclip created by Keith Manville, demonstrating what happens when you interact with Drawing with Sounds: 

I look forward to sharing more on this topic in future blog posts.  I'll be sure to include basic "how-to" information for my "low-tech" readers and colleagues who desire to learn a bit more about using and creating basic interactive applications that appeal to young people with special needs.  

Note:  SEN is the UK acronym for "Special Educational Needs"

James Winchester, SEN Classroom Blog, 10/31/13

Keith Manville, opensen blog, 10/27/12
"Open-source, Sensory and Interactive Technology in SEN"

(An accessible switch-enabled version of Drawing with Sounds can be downloaded from the above link.)

Free sensory applications built in Processing 1.5.1"Download links for sensory applications built in Processing 1.5.1, designed to assist SEN students in engaging in learning through the the use of ICT, interactive “Smart” boards, touchscreen or tablet technologies.  Our experience is that using applications on these devices or with natural user interfaces such as the Microsoft Kinect can increase the opportunities for engagement and social communication with many students."

I will be posting more information about emerging interactive technologies for special needs in the future. In the meantime, take a look at the following resources:

The SHAPE Project, technologies to enhance learning for young people on the Autism Spectrum
KinectSEN Wiki
"Using Kinect in Special Schools for Pupils with Severe Learning Difficulties"

Jul 23, 2013

Monkeying Around with Autism Assessments: Kinect-based game by Vectorform and Kaiser Permanente therapists offers a barrel of possibilities!

"The goal was to build a game that is extremely accessible, non-complex and includes simple mechanics that children with autism can quickly understand to retain their attention, prevent over-stimulation, encourage play, and prevent frustration." -Vectorform "Monkey Business" Team

I recently had the chance to visit the team at Vectorform's Royal Oak (MI) headquarters and experience a demo of one of their newest applications, a Kinect-based game developed to assist in the assessment of children with autism. The game, known as Monkey Business, was designed in collaboration with physical, occupational, and speech therapists from Kaiser Permanente, a large health care service provider in California. The project was supported by Kaiser Permanente's Innovation Fund for Technology group.

I was impressed!

As I watched the demo, it was clear that much time and attention was given to the input of the therapists at Kaiser Permanente. The avatar in the game is a friendly monkey who embodies the mannerisms of a friendly, curious child.  The artwork is visually appealing and not too busy. The sound effects relate to the interaction at hand and provide feedback to the child as they engage in various game-like tasks designed to assess visual-motor, gross motor, and basic receptive language skills.  Another good feature of this application is the simplicity of the screens designed for input of the child's information and viewing data regarding progress.

In my opinion, the Monkey Business assessment game has the potential for use in school settings, and would be enhanced if additional assessment activities are provided in the application.  Expanded activities within the Monkey Business environment could support a range of treatment, education, and related intervention efforts. In addition to supporting assessment and intervention of children with autism, the Monkey Business concept would be especially useful in working with children who have experienced a traumatic brain injury.

Below are screen shots and descriptions of a few activities from the Monkey Business game:

Lily Pad Jumping Test
In the jumping test, the child is asked to jump across a pond, from one lily pad to another.  The child is provided with a set of toy lily pads on the floor.  As the child jumps, the Kinect sensor picks up movement and displays the jumps on the screen in the form of the monkey.

Balance Beam Test
The following screen shot depicts the monkey avatar crossing a stream on a balance beam. The monkey's movements reflect the child's movements across a real balance beam in front of the Kinect sensor and a large screen display.

Block Building Test
In the block building test, the monkey avatar encourages the child to build a tower of blocks to match the one displayed on the large screen.  The child uses real blocks, placed on a table, to build a tower while the monkey provides encouragements.  Objects other than blocks can be used, as the Kinect sensor is capable of identifying a variety of objects that can be use for building and stacking.

Clinician Screens
The screens designed for inputting and reviewing data regarding the child are designed with simplicity and ease-of use in mind, as shown in the pictures below:

In the present version of Monkey Business, a TV remote is used to control the application. It is possible that future versions of Monkey Business could integrated with a Smartwatch to input student information and control the activities in the application.  

Comment: As a school psychologist who works with children, teens, and young adults with autism and other significant disabilities, I know how difficult it can be to conduct assessments using traditional test materials.  If a student has difficulty interacting with unfamiliar adults, has communication challenges, or has motor difficulties, it may not be possible to administer an assessment that generates meaningful or valid results.  Even if the student is capable of completing some of the traditional test tasks, much time and effort is required on the part of the evaluator to sustain their interest, effort, and attention.   

To get a better picture of a student's emerging skills, I use interactive multimedia applications during my assessments of children with autism.  Newer technologies such as interactive whiteboards, larger touch-screen monitors, and tablets have proven to be useful tools in assessment.   A significant drawback to my approach is that it is cobbled together and might be difficult to replicate by other evaluation teams.  I see a growing need for a range of technologically-enhanced tools for assessment, including applications that offer opportunities for playful engagement.  Monkey Business holds potential to fill the bill.

What next?

I'd like to share some stories about the people who make things come to life at Vectorform. During my visit, I learned that they are involved in a number of projects related to health care and are always brainstorming new ways to harness technology for their various clients.  

Over the past several years, I've followed Vectorform's journey as they've jumped off of the desktop and transformed from web-developers to Post-WIMP explorers of natural user interfaces and interaction.  The most recent area of exploration is Google Glass. 

Intrigued by Google Glass?  So am I.  

During my visit to Vectorform, I had a chance to see the world - or rather Vectorform's basement conference room - through Google Glass.  As soon as I put them on I was flooded with ideas, and will expand on my ideas, and those of others, in future posts.

In the meantime, take the time to read an excellent post by Kevin Foreman, Vectorform's Director of Product Vision.  In "The Glass Experience", Kevin provides an in-depth reflection of his experience wearing Google Glass throughout his daily routine.  He also explains the inner workings of the hardware, the strengths and limitations of the Glass system, details about the user interface, the "on-board" accessories, and a few comments about what it is like to be a new Glass-wearing celebrity.

Here are just three of the innovators I met during my recent visit to Vectorform, left to right: Jennifer Tonio, Marketing Manager, Kevin Foreman, Director of Product Vision, and Patric Samona, Director of Health Solutions.

Below are a few links related to the use of games for the assessment and intervention of autism, along with links to information about the use of games and emerging technologies for rehabilitation, health care and health promotion:

Microsoft Kinect and Autism (SlideShare) Susan McCarthy, Little Angel's School 2/09/13

Italian Team Uses the Kinect to Treat Autistic Children Andrea Lorini, Epoch Times, 12/13/12

Microsoft Surface Multi-touch Application for Pediatric Neuropsychology Assessment (Featuring Vectorform) Lynn Marentette, TechPsych Blog, 8/26/09   

Xbox One, Kinect 2.0 and the future of health technology Marcelo Calbucci, Mobihealth News, 5/26/13

Accessible Games for Health and K-12 Education: Lessons from the Classroom (SlideShare) Lynn Marentette, 5/9/08, Games for Health Conference Presentation

Researchers: Microsoft Kinect is a Money-Saving Telemedicine Device Gabriel Perna, Healthcare Informatics, 2/15/13

Lowes, LP., Alfano LN, Yetter BA, Worthen-CHaudhari, L, Hinchman W, Samona P, Flanigan KM, Mendell JR Proof of Concept of the Ability of the Kinect to Quantify Upper Extremity Function in Dystrophinopathy
PLoS Curr. 2013 Mar 14; 5   doi:  10.1371/currents.md.9ab5d872bbb944c6035c9f9bfd314ee2

Jul 9, 2013

The Life and Contributions of Seymour Papert: Inspiring video of a tribute panel, Interaction Design and Children Conference

Seymour Papert Tribute at #IDC13

I recently attended the Interaction Design and Children (IDC 2013) conference in NYC.  It was like a summer tech camp for grown-ups. We were busy all day and had interesting evening events scheduled, like a field trip to the New York Hall of Science and a screening of Flying Paper, an award-winning documentary. 

One of the highlights of IDC 2013 was a panel that gave tribute to the life and contributions of Seymour Papert.  Well ahead of his time, Seymour Papert imagined a world in which children would generate their own computer programs, make awesome robots, collaborate with others, create, and learn. 

I encourage you to take some time and watch the video.

Seymour Papert Tribute Panel from IDC2013 Conference on Vimeo.

The following information is from the description of the video:

"Seymour Papert was one of the key pioneers of interaction design for children, merging the constructivist ideas of Jean Piaget and cutting-edge technological advances in computer programming and cybernetics..generating well-known designs such as the Logo programming language and the Lego Mindstorms robotics kits.  This work, which in the beginning was done in collaboration with many colleagues at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab, Bolt, Beranek and Newman, and Atari Research Labs, has been highly influential for decades."

"Paulo Blikstein from Stanford University hosted a panel at the Interaction Design and Children (IDC 2013) conference on the impact of Seymour Papert's research on the past, present, and future of child-computer interaction.  The purpose of this pane is to investigate current trends, designs, and theoretical advances in the IDC community in light of the groundbreaking work of Papert and his close collaborators, recapitulate the history of this early work in IDC, and imagine future scenarios for IDC research."

Allison Druin, University of Maryland
Edith Ackermann, MIT
Mike Eisenberg, University of Colorado
Mitch Resnick, MIT
Uri Wilensky, Northwestern University

More posts to come soon!

IDC 2013 Website - an archive of treasures
MIT Media Lab
Human-Computer Interaction Lab: Children as Design Partners