App opens up smartphone use for people with arm paralysis

Dowell can be used with assistive devices such as head-tracking sensors

Dowell, shown at the 2015 Computer-Human Interaction Conference in Seoul, is designed to allow people with upper-limb paralysis to use smartphones. It can be used with the head-tracking sensor and trackball mouse seen here as well as other assistive devices.

Dowell, shown at the 2015 Computer-Human Interaction Conference in Seoul, is designed to allow people with upper-limb paralysis to use smartphones. It can be used with the head-tracking sensor and trackball mouse seen here as well as other assistive devices.

South Korean researchers have developed an app that helps people with arm paralysis use smartphones.

Dubbed Dowell, the app is designed to assist people who can't use their hands well, and is targeted at users with muscular dystrophy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), stroke and other ailments that restrict movement.

The app has a user interface that works with a variety of input methods for disabled people, which are known as computer assistive devices. It can receive information from a trackball mouse, head-tracking camera and mouth stick, which is a tool for manipulating a cursor with the mouth.

The project is being presented at the 2015 Computer-Human Interaction Conference (CHI) in Seoul this week as part of an industry-university collaboration involving Samsung Electronics.

"Until now, people with upper-limb disabilities have been limited to PCs if they want to use computers," said developer Ahn Hyun-jin, a student at Seoul National University's Graduate School of Convergence Science and Technology. There are a number of assistive devices for PCs that are already available for people with disabilities.

In a demo, Ahn attached a small red sticker to his glasses and stood in front of a smartphone linked to a HeadMouse Extreme, a wireless optical sensor that can track the sticker.

He was able to navigate through the app's menus by moving his head from side to side, which controlled a cursor on the smartphone's screen. When the cursor dwells on a menu item for a second or two, that item is selected.

He repeated the demo with a trackball mouse, which is a large red sphere used by people with limited finger movement.

The app has a specially designed user interface that uses all four edges of the screen for menus, allowing for more choices such as dragging and tapping items. Users are able to scroll through photos, for instance, or zoom in on photos.

Ahn said eight disabled users tried out the app as part of its development and responded favorably to it, even though they had never used smartphones before.

He plans to release the application to the Samsung Apps platform in a few months.

Tim Hornyak covers Japan and emerging technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Tim on Twitter at @robotopia.

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