Category: accessibility

Close up of NFC Ring. Metal band with black panel inlaid.

NFC Ring – Wearable computing you might actually wear

The most resent wearable computing Kickstarter success (having reached it goal in only 3 days!) is the NFC Ring designed by John McLear from the UK. NFC for those of you unfamiliar with the acronym stands for Near Field Communication, a wireless protocol similar to RFID (Radio Frequency Identification – used to security tag products in shops among many other things). NFC is becoming increasingly popular for particular tasks because of certain qualities that distinguish it from RFID and for this reason it now comes as standard in most new high end smartphones. In fact you may already have been using NFC if you are one of the early adopters of a contactless credit card (See here for some more (scary) information on contactless credit cards).

What distinguishes NFC from its now ubiquitous ancestor RFID is that it allows two way communication (you can only read from an RFID chip) and as the name suggests it works over a very short range (maximum of 4 inches of 10 centimetres). Both of these qualities make it particularly suitable for smartphones and tasks that require more security (like electronic payment). So how does John McLear propose to utilize this technology?

The NFC Ring can be used to unlock doors, mobile phones and to transfer information, link people or even transfer accessibility preferences or login details. Have a look at the promo video below for more details.

I’m sure you’ll agree this a great looking product at a fantastic price (under €30 including delivery) who’s full usefulness is probably not yet completely evident. In addition to that that there are a couple of other features that make this an outstanding Kickstarter project.

First of all the detailed video (below) where John outlines the design iterations and technological barriers the team overcame to come up with the final product will prove very interesting and informative to any potential product designers out there. Also their equal weighting of aesthetics, security and functionality could be considered a blueprint for the design of wearable technology. Releasing the SDK (Software Development Kit) as Open Source should ensure a steady stream of user generated apps and innovation at a rate that just wouldn’t be possible even with a large team of developers. Finally allowing people the option of customizing the ring to their own individual preferences or create unique designs opens the door to allow creative and artistic individuals the opportunity of reselling their designs. You can even just buy the NFC chips and use a 3D printer to print your own ring!

This is true user driven design in the sense that although this is a product in its own right it is also a platform for users to create their own unique product with the functionality they need and the aesthetic they desire… as long as it’s a ring any thing they want with the 3D printing option!

Anybody got any ideas for useful Assistive Technology (or any other) applications for this technology? Please comment below (as long as it’s not spam about rip-off Oakley sunglasses :)

close up of man wearing an input device around his ear that he is pointing to with his index finger

The Human Body as Touchscreen Replacement

Summary: When you touch your own body, you feel exactly what you touch — better feedback than any external device. And you never forget to bring your body.

palm with dots representing various commands
Touching specific spots on your own hand enters the commands.

Usability expert Jakob Nielsen discusses the future of HCI (Human Computer Interaction) and Ubiquitous User Interfaces in the latest instalment of his blog, Alertbox. Specifically he looks at two concepts that use human body parts as user interfaces: Sean Gustafson‘s hand based interface (pictured) and the EarPut, ear based input system being developed by Roman Lissermann and colleagues from the Technical University of Darmstadt. One very interesting discovery that has been made through this work is that when blindfolded, users were almost twice as fast using the hand interface than they were using a regular glass touch screen. Read the full article here



By now, even if they’ve never used one themselves, most people are pretty familiar with the idea behind gesture control systems such as the Kinect – the user makes a movement, the device “sees” that movement, and interprets it. However, what would happen if the user was in another room, blocked from the device’s cameras and depth sensors? Well, as long as there was a Wi-Fi signal available, it wouldn’t be a problem … at least, not if the WiSee system was being used.

 The WiSee system recognizes user gestures in other rooms

 User controlling equipment with gestures from another room

Created by a University of Washington team led by Prof. Shyam Gollakota, the technology utilizes nothing but the Wi-Fi signals already present in a room, such as those emitted by smartphones or laptops. Those signals travel through the interior walls of the building, and are monitored by a centrally-located WiSee receiver – although a regular Wi-Fi router could also be adapted for the same purpose.

Should the user move even just a hand or a foot, they will cause a change in the frequency of the Wi-Fi signal, known as the Doppler frequency shift. Even though that shift is typically only in the order of several hertz, an algorithm created by the researchers allows the receiver to detect it.

Waveform showing shift signatures

 Different types of movements produce different shift signatures, with the system currently able to differentiate between nine unique whole-body gestures. Multiple users can be tracked simultaneously, too, as the each of the receiver’s multiple antennas automatically tunes itself in to a specific source. In its current form, a single WiSee device can follow the movements of as many as five users without getting “confused.”

The upshot is that a WiSee user could (for example) be sitting in the bathroom, and wave their arm in order to turn down the stereo in the living room … if the receiver had already been programmed to pair that gesture to that function.

So far, the system has been tested in a two-bedroom apartment and an office setting, with five users. It was able to correctly identify 94 percent of the 900 gestures made by those people.

Source University of Washington


The fact that EA (Electronic Arts) Games hugely popular football game FIFA Soccer 13 has received the AbleGamers Foundation for accessible mainstream game award this year might come as somewhat of a surprise to anybody who has played football computer games in the past. Up until now all the most successful games in this genre were almost totally inaccessible to gamers with physical or cognitive disabilities because of their fast-paced nature and the complexity of their controls. So how have EA managed to accomplish this? Well according to Mark Barlet, President and Founder of the AbleGamers Foundation, they have made the game accessible by “including remapable keys, an unheard-of mouse only mode and game settings that allow the entire game to be tailored to the unique abilities of each disabled gamer”. Including these features is very much in line with the Principles of Universal Design, particularly 1) Equitable Use and 2) Flexibility of Use but they also follow the AbleGamers Foundation’s own guidelines for designing accessible games as outlined in their “Includificationwebsite and document published last year. This is an extensive document and certainly a “must read” for game designers interested in creating accessible games. The document acknowledges that universal design as it is applied to other software applications and the internet is not a perfect fit for game design and rather than insisting on a Utopian standard it makes recommendations and suggestions that are currently well within the technical abilities of game developers. While the visual nature of most games might make the Universal Design principle 4) Perceptible Information very difficult to entirely satisfy, by concentrating their efforts on 2) Flexibility of Use game designers can at least hope to accommodate a sizable proportion of those gamers currently excluded from participating in the majority of mainstream games. Accommodations including; allowing the user the ability to change the size, colour and font of text, providing high contrast and colourblind options, allowing the user to set an appropriate difficulty level, a choice of input options and the ability to slow down game play would all help gamers with various disabilities play the same game titles as their peers. This is what EA Games did with FIFA 13, in fact (from my reading of the report rather than reviewing the game) by simply allowing a choice of input options (remapable keys, mouse only option) and providing the ability to slow down game-play EA have not only gotten the good press of winning the accessible mainstream game award 2012 but they have also significantly grown their potential market. Hopefully other game developers will see what an easy win this was and the bar will be raised next year.

What are your thoughts on Universal Game Design? How can designers creating something that is both universally accessible and universally challenging? Is it even possible?