Students developing gesture control technologies to help persons with disabilities

Middle East, January 18 2017

DUBAI: Technology that can help persons with disabilities by using body movements to control artificial limbs and other devices is being developed at UAE University.

Smart Gesture Control and Recognition Technology – similar to technology used in gaming – is designed to give the elderly and those with physical disabilities greater independence, at a significantly lower cost than what is now available.

“At present, mechanical or robotic body parts used by persons with disabilities can turn out to be very costly, along with the training and maintenance,” said Zulfiqar Aslam, senior instructor in the college of business and economics.

“Whereas Smart G-CRT will make the way people operate these parts more effectively and economically.

“The device will be composed of a very small motion sensor that will have depth sensing as well as cameras, and can be attached to prosthetics or any other device that needs to be controlled naturally. Based on specific human gestures, devices can be controlled easily.”

Mr Aslam started to develop the technology last year after being inspired by one of his students.

“This research idea came into my mind after observing one of my students,” he said. “He was disabled and did not have legs. His lower body was supported by wooden legs and the cost of these was almost Dh30,000.

“A year later, I met him again and found he had robotic legs that work by sensors connected to his nervous system. However, the cost of these was almost Dh500,000.

“This inspired me tremendously and I came up with a research idea that can help people with special needs in a better and more cost-effective way.”

Iranian student Abdullah Hashemi, who has been unable to walk since childhood, is part of the team developing the technology.

“I think it is important because people with special needs do not have any choice but to buy very costly artificial body parts such as robotics, or useless mechanical equipment without proper control,” said Mr Hashemi, 25.

Saud Al Musslot, who suffered partial body paralysis in a car accident and is now in recovery, said the technology could change lives.

“It is an affordable and more reliable solution to all the problems related to people with special needs,” said Mr Al Musslot, 24, from Saudi Arabia.

“I think that people with special needs are suffering because they bring solutions to their needs very slowly and at very high costs. This will help, support and encourage people in poor countries or people with less income.”

Disabled people who cannot afford the current technology are often left housebound.

“They choose not to buy it and feel ashamed and embarrassed and cut off from society,” Mr Al Musslot said. “They feel that they have lost everything and are useless human beings in this society.

“The mechanical or robotic parts that are available provide single solutions, whereas Smart G-CRT can provide multiple solutions to operate body parts with the help of gestures controlled by a single application.”

But Mr Aslam admits the project still has a way to go.

“Taking it to the next level will require funding, coordination and support from the technical experts. Once a prototype has been built we will need to work with manufacturing organisation to transfer into production.”

Source: The National

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