Science fiction writer William Gibson once said, ‘The future is already here; it's just not evenly distributed.’ We already have self-driving cars, computers that respond to voice, even thought-controlled technology (Did you know scientists have turned lights on and off with their minds? They’ve narrowed it down to just a 5-6 second delay). Technology is moving at such a fast pace, we’re at risk of leaving some people behind and potential uses untapped. When Belinda started her PhD in 2006, she knew what technology was coming 2-3 years down the track; now the lead time is more like 3-6 months. That also means that technologies become defunct much quicker and it’s harder to pick what is going to be useful in a few years’ time.
David is very familiar with those timelines, because he’s one of the people developing the new technologies. David invented the accessible gaming system known as OrbIT. It’s essentially a large, spherical controller designed for children with a hand impairment. The system only works when both hands are placed on the controller, which can be rolled around and pushed back and forth to play the games on the screen. OrbIT gives haptic feedback to the player during use; that is, the controller vibrates as events occur in the game, like hitting a wall. Proper and efficient use of the controller can only be accomplished when both hands work together—meaning the non-dominant hand is actively engaged and used. When David took OrbIT into the homes of children with cerebral palsy for his PhD project, he witnessed not only improvement in rehabilitation outcomes (i.e. better non-dominant hand functionality), he heard many ‘social’ accounts from the trial, such as a child speaking more than before because they were teaching their sibling how to play the games—scenes their parents had never witnessed before. He is also finding new applications for OrbIT, expanding trials into new populations such as people recovering from a stroke and people with Parkinson’s disease. Following the success of OrbIT, one of David’s colleagues, Associate Professor Sandy Walker, has conceptualised a new controller called i-boll to improve the manufacturing design, cost, scalability and ability to interact with commercial games.
Like his colleagues, David is driven by his desire to make a difference—particularly for those living with a disability—and believes collaboration between disciplines is vital. Before OrbIT, David and Pammi worked together to trial new software that uses gesturisation to play music called the virtual musical instrument (VMI). For people who can’t sit in front of or hold a musical instrument, their body can become the instrument. You use your hands, head—in fact, any body part—to make music. Even a slight movement can produce a musical note. David and Pammi tested the VMI with children between six and 18 years old with multiple disabilities—and the results were heartwarming. Just walking into the room, the children would get visibly excited in anticipation of the trial. In fact, it was so inspiring, David delivered a TEDx Talk on how technology can be an ‘enabler’ for people with impairments.