Ok we have all heard of getting your 5-a-day, fruit and veg being an important part of a balanced diet, but a part of the orchestra?

Everyday market fruits and vegetables can be prepared to produce remarkable musical instruments – a carrot kazoo, a cauliflower conch, a squash udu all possible with a little preparation and a lot of vision. Here is one man who never listened when his Mother told him not to play with his food.

A program called ‘growing sound’ is being delivered in both primary and secondary schools in the UK. A cross curricular workshop exploring music, the physics of sound, plant biology, transforming vegetable to instrument and finally the performance of produced instrument. This can link in with many other aspects of curricular activity: vocational subjects, renewable sources of food, engineering etc.

But vegetable instrumental is not merely child’s play as we see the Vienna based vegetable orchestra ; celery guitar, cucumber phone, pumpkin triangle all sound like they could be instruments, but how are parsley, cabbage and a french bean played?

Have you bean inspired?

Music Technology

Music is something that we feel, the rhythm of the rain, the maternal heartbeat for a foetus in utero and the pulsating waves from a base drum to a person without the ability to hear. Music is experienced, therefore access to express these feelings should not be confined to a select few.

Over a series of postings i will take a look at some newer instruments which may enable budding musicians to find their groove and also highlight some of the existing accessible options. Please join in to create our universal orchestra -all together now!

black and white graphic of an orchestra conductor.


Me, Myself and I

Basically whatever you have use it, voice is one of the more widely used instruments but toe tapping, humming, clicking, clapping all adds to the orchestral piece.

One of the more creative examples of this is producing a sound by clapping both hands together so that the air is trapped between the palms, then squeezing the air out vibrating the skin of the palms, here is one such musician displaying his talent a so called manualist enjoy!

Click and play

bliptronic 5000. a square electronic instrument that is programed by pressing buttons on an 8 by 8 matrix
Bliptronic 5000

An evolution for the market of the more technical Matrix Synthesisers such as Bliptronic 5000 (image above) a software based musical sequencer by selecting squares to start and stop beat find out the basics and have a try on this website http://www.yourdailymedia.com/post/click-the-squares-am-laboratory/

Below is some inspiration to get you going..

could switch users take part, how about the deaf? Tell me how!

Ever heard of a Skoog?

man with glasses holding a scoog, a white cube with coloured convex buttons on each face.

Sounds like a range in Ikea, but it is actually a new exciting musical instrument and tool for inclusive education. The brainchild of Doctors David Skulina (Physics/Music) and Ben Schogler (Psychology/Music) developed in the University of Edinburgh, the Skoog boasts usability for those unable to play traditional instruments. It is a soft squeezable cube shape with 5 colourful buttons on sides (barring that on which it sits). Plugging straight into a USB port the Skoog adapts to the users movements tap, flick, touch, squash, press any of the surface area programmable with a choice of scale and notes, different instruments and even upload sample sounds yourself. With its versatility, sensitivity and innovative design features the Skoog sure does seem to tick all the boxes.

Skoogadellic baby yeh!!


hand holding black pacman looking instrument

Well who is this little cutey, 3 dimensional pac man and a vertical tail with attitude. Is it a toy or is it a musical instrument shaped like a quaver note lasting 1/8 of a bar? That is up to you, but what I can tell you it is the quirky invention of a Japanese art group Maywa Denki who engineer imaginative products and perform demonstrations. Little pac man himself has a face which will sing creating the vibrato effect by squeezing his cheeks, the tail which is both pitch and tone is controlled by sliding a finger along the either towards or away from base. Otamatone masters have further controls available on the back to refine performance ability, although many otamatonists prefer to freeform and release the musical beast within. 3AAA batteries are required and a high functioning ability of motor control in both hands is crucial to operate the product efficiently. With 5 colours to choose from black, white, yellow, pink and blue the otamatone can be used from experimentation right through to recital.

and now even an app..

Wearable Computing – Is it finally here?

Anybody with even a passing interest in technology will have probably heard the rumours that have abounded over the last few days about Apples supposed new product, the iWatch. Even though it is pure speculation at this stage and has been greeted by Apple with their usual stoic silence it’s a great opportunity to look at the whole area of wearable computing. Wearable Computing which has long been a mainstay of science fiction is about to become a reality with many tech evangelists claiming it will be the next big thing. Tech analyst Juniper Research estimates that wearable computing will generate €600m in revenue this year and €1.25bn in 2014 with annual unit sales rising from 15m in 2013 to 70m by 2017. The demand certainly seems to be out there, in a previous post we mentioned Pebble the watch like smart phone accessory that raised over $10m in their Kickstarter campaign (100 times their goal of $100,000). Numbers like this will surely encourage manufacturers to consider similar designs. Rather than wasting time discussing a product that (at least for the moment) doesn’t exist the remainder of this article (and indeed my next couple of posts) will concentrate on products that have got at least as far as the prototype stage and in some cases are already available to buy (for more on the mythical iWatch see http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2013/feb/18/iwatch-apple-tv).

Glasses  – Google Project Glass

In April last year Google released the video below demoing “Project Glass” their Augmented Reality (AR) glasses that allow their user to access information and interface with their smart phone.  Although not a new idea (portable computing with a heads up display (HUD) has been around for a number of years see the work of Thad Starner and Steve Mann) this is the first time something like this has even vaguely resembled a mainstream product.

There is more going on in the video above than AR of course. Like other mobile technologies (particularly the smart phone to which they are connected) the glasses are context aware and the user interacts with the technology using natural language. With Project Glass Google have been accused by some commentators of completely missing the point however claiming that instead of mediating and augmenting your connection with reality they mediate and augment your connection to Google services. Since the project was announced in April the glasses have made an appearance at New York fashion week, jumping out of a aeroplane on skydivers and even a brief cameo being worn by Google founder Sergey Brin on a subway. The latest sneak peak into the possibilities offered  by Project Glass, now simply called Glass is the video below which was released on February 20th.

Despite all the publicity, whether this is something real people actually want is still uncertain. If it is however it could mean a huge change in how we interact with mobile technologies. Large touch screens would not be necessary on smart phones, in fact we wouldn’t have to take them from our pockets. Any surface could be a keyboard or we could just speak text (when appropriate of course). How might this effect visually impaired users? Is there any alternative to AR for them or do they just stick with the legacy touch screens until they are no longer supported? These negatives aside there are plenty of positives in terms of possible AT applications for this technology. Any ideas for AT uses?

It’s worth mentioning that Google aren’t the only ones looking at this technology, other companies hoping to introduce smart glasses include Vuzix and the camera manufacturer Olympus.

For more info on Project Glass see https://plus.google.com/+projectglass/posts and http://www.google.com/glass/start/

Also an interesting article on The Verge; Project Glass and the epic history of wearable computers

New hardware and app combos that let you open your door from anywhere

Below are a number of new interesting products being developed at the moment that are due to be available by Summer 2013.  These are phone-based door products that enable you to use your phone much as you would a key.  You walk up to the door, with your phone instead of your key, then unlock the door with your phone.

UniKey Keyless Entry System


UniKey Keyless Entry System
UniKey Keyless Entry System







UniKey is a deadbolt that fits to your door.  It uses Bluetooth wireless technology to unlock the door. You just touch the UniKey deadbolt, and it unlocks if your phone is within a few feet of the lock.  Another  feature is that with the UniKey app you can send an electronic copy of the “key” for example, if you want to let a friend into your house while you’re away, you can send the key over the Internet, then the friend can use it to unlock your door. You can also revoke keys using the app and send keys that work only during certain hours of the day.

Agipy Lockitron Keyless Entry System


Agipy Lockitron Keyless Entry System
Agipy Lockitron Keyless Entry System







Another similar smart phone lock is the Lockitron. Rather than being a replacement deadbolt, the Lockitron fits over your existing deadbolt and turns it phyiscally when you send the command from your phone. You can also turn the lock by hand.  It connects through your home’s Wi-Fi network, which means you can unlock the door from anywhere in the world over the Internet.  It can also be set to unlock the door automatically as you approach by detecting the Bluetooth signal from your phone. You can also grant access to others by sending them permission over email. 

Edison Junior DoorBot Smart Doorbell


Edison Junior DoorBot Smart Doorbell
Edison Junior DoorBot Smart Doorbell







The DoorBot is a doorbell and a camera that installs next to your door. The way it works is that when visitors ring the doorbell, your phone alerts you and you can see who’s there, even when you’re not at home.  You can speak to them through your phone. The camera has infrared vision and so works during the night. The DoorBot is designed to work with the Lockitron, so not only can you see and speak with whoever’s at your door, but you can let the person in, too.


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?

Is High Tech always the best solution?

Many of our everyday devices are moving towards platforms that offer great functionality with the ability to customize around our needs.  However high tech solutions can have a number of disadvantages.   One disadvantage is complexity which can be associated with frustration for new users.  Other disadvantages can be cost, battery life, and reliability.  For example for an individual who needs easier access to the opening and closing of windows there is the high tech solution of fitting an electric window opener and setting up a computer based controller (1) or alternatively there is low tech option such as manual window openers (2).  Although the manual opener may suit a user’s need to ventilate a room it has only one single purpose.

Computer based controller and an electric window opener
Computer based controller and electric window opener
Manual window openers
Manual window openers

E-Ink Smart Phone Accessories

popSlate was launched on crowd funding site Indigogo at the end of November and in a little over a week it successfully reached its goal of $150,000. What is it? Well if you haven’t heard already (coverage has been extensive) it’s an iPhone 5 cover ($100) that adds a 4” e-ink screen to the back of your iPhone. Take a look at the video below but bear in mind this is a pitch and may differ in performance from the finished product (there has been some speculation that the refresh rate of e-Ink would be nowhere near as fast as it appears in this video) :

Popslate – The Second Screen Experience Pitch from popSLATE on Vimeo.

Other advantages aside from being able to personalise your iPhone cover with photos of your dog come from the unique properties of e-ink technology. These include its low power consumption (only uses power to refresh the image); easily viewable in bright sunlight and the ability to display bar-codes that can be read by traditional laser bar-code scanners.

This final point was exploited a few months back by another successful crowd funded unholy union between iPhone and e-ink the Geode. Have a look at its kick-starter page to see what a really clever product the Geode is.. however considering the iPhone battery life you could be potentially setting yourself up for major problems (all your eggs in one basket comes to mind).

Finally we have the Pebble. The Pebble is different from those previously mentioned for two significant reasons. Firstly it doesn’t discriminate; you can get a Pebble for Android as well as iPhone. Secondly it comes in the form of an e-ink display for your wrists, like a watch, remember them? In spring of this year the designers of the Pebble started their KickStarter campaign to raise a modest $100,000; they rose over $10,000,000. Their device is basically an e-ink display that connects to your smart phone using Bluetooth. You can install various apps on it allowing you to receive messages, control your music, access GPS information (useful for running or as a cycling computer) as well as.. telling the time. They also have a software development kit (SDK) that allows tech minded people to develop their own apps.

If nothing else all three of these products prove that there is a considerable market for e-ink smart phone accessories but what do they have to do with assistive technology? Well the answer to that I suppose is that in their current form not a lot but perhaps a second e-ink display could serve an AT purpose?

Maybe an e-ink display on a wheelchair tray that displays incoming messages or a map/directions? An e-ink display on the back of an iPad that is being used as a communication device (one of the features that distinguished the Lightwrighter from other communication devices was it second screen that allowed people to read the message being produced as well a hearing them). Could an e-ink display be made serve the same purpose on a tablet or smart phone?

Anybody got any other ideas?

So you think you’ve got a great product/design/idea?

So many people are brimming with product design ideas while others have lists of products they wish were available, but aren’t – yet. Here’s a great site where all can come together to create new products and bring them to market: www.quirky.com.

In particular, the site’s content around bringing a concept from it initial germ of an idea to market, and using whatever tools and resources are available, could be of interest to us here on User Driven Design.

What gaping holes in product development and design can you see which need to be filled? And how can we promote greater involvement of users in the whole world of Product Design?


Mainstream or specialist? Which is best?

Smartphones, iPads, tablets…..it seems like we’re spoilt for choice these days with all kinds of devices which allow us to find our way around, pay our bills, play games, listen to the radio, play movies and – oh yes, make calls and send texts! Some of these are more affordable than others. Some are more user friendly and others less so. One thing that they all do though, is offer users of differing abilities the chance to do things which they may previously have struggled with.

Many of these devices work perfectly well on their own, but sometimes they work even better when they’ve been modified or customised in some way. For example, an individual might choose to link an infra red receiver to a tablet to allow TV channel changing or to control an electronic door opener.

On the other hand, there are many specialist technologies on the market which are designed with a very specific use in mind. Examples include: voice output communication aids and environmental controllers. Because they’re targeting a very defined (and therefore smaller) market, their cost tends to be considerably higher. However, they might also offer the user a higher level of functionality precisely because they’ve been designed with the user group’s particular needs in mind.

What is your experience of mainstream vs specialist technologies? Is one consistently better than the other? And how important is cost when it comes to choosing a technology for your personal use?