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Google Awards Grant to Shepherd Center Researchers to Create Wearable Computer App for People with Memory Deficits

People with brain injury and vision loss could improve independence by using the app.

A team of engineers, researchers and creative experts at Google has awarded Shepherd Center and the Wireless RERC a $15,000 Google Glass Accessibility grant to develop an application that will assist people who have memory impairment because of a brain injury.

Google Glass is a wearable computer with an optical, head-mounted display. The device displays information in a smartphone-like, hands-free format that can communicate with the Internet via natural language voice commands. 

The Glass Accessibility Award is for the development and testing of an app for people with memory impairment. It will aid the Google Glass user in connecting names and faces. This is a common memory deficit for a person with a brain injury, especially when meeting someone out of their usual context (e.g., meeting a professional contact in a social setting).

“Wearable technology offers considerable potential for enhancing the independence and community participation of people with disabilities,” said project leader John Morris, Ph.D., a research scientist at Shepherd Center and the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center for Wireless Technologies (Wireless RERC).

“Glasses-based products can be especially useful for people with upper-extremity, cognitive and visual limitations,” he added.  “The Google Glass Accessibility Award gives us the opportunity to begin developing and testing products for these populations. We're very pleased to receive Google's support and participate in this unique program.”

Google said it received many strong proposals in response to its request, and the one Morris submitted was among the favorites. The award includes three Google Glass devices for use in the app development and testing.

Working with Morris on the project will be Wireless RERC research scientist Jim Mueller and Shepherd Center speech-language pathologist Tracey Wallace, who treats people with brain injury. The Wireless RERC, which is a research partnership between Shepherd Center and the Georgia Institute of Technology, is funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) to address issues related to the accessibility and usability of mobile wireless products and services by people with disabilities. 

The researchers will develop an app that will display on the Glass screen the names and photos from the directory of contacts of people who are nearby. Before entering a room or public space or joining a group of people, the person with memory deficits can review the list of names and other information about the people present. Additionally, the app will help users stay in the moment during an extended conversation with one or more individuals, Morris explained.

Morris cites three potential benefits of this app development project:

  • If the solution proves effective, people living with brain injury may enjoy greater levels of community and family participation, with lower levels of stress and anxiety.
  • The user-testing research involved with the app development could help researchers develop a specific clinical practice protocol for use of electronic memory aids.
  • The research and development community could benefit from this work through the researchers’ presentation of their results at conferences and in professional publications.

Once the app is ready for release, Shepherd Center and the Wireless RERC will make it available free of charge.

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.