Shepherd Center Researchers Testing Memory App for Google Glass and Wearable Technologies
Remembering important tasks or recent interactions with people can be a challenge for anybody. For people recovering from and living with the effects of a brain injury, these everyday tasks can be even more difficult.
That’s why clinicians at Shepherd Pathways, Shepherd Center’s post-acute brain injury rehabilitation program, often teach patients how to use tools and techniques for aiding memory. These tools include common consumer devices such as cell phones and tablets.
Building on these clinical practices, a research and development team at Shepherd Center has recently developed its own memory application (“app”) called EyeRemember, which runs on a wearable device called Google Glass. Researchers have begun testing the app, gathering helpful feedback from patients with brain injury, as well as their caregivers and therapists.
The research team’s three members are part of the Glass Explorer program, and include clinical research scientist John Morris, Ph.D., speech-language pathologist Tracey Wallace, MA, CCC-SLP, and Android developer Scott Bradshaw, BSCS. The project is being funded by a Glass Accessibility Award the team received from Google in 2014.
EyeRemember helps people with memory difficulties keep track of people in their circle – family, friends, therapy team members and possibly others with whom the user interacts on a regular basis. The EyeRemember app works in conjunction with Bluetooth low-energy (BLE) beacons – small transmitters about the size of a car key fob – that must be worn or carried by friends, family, therapists and others in the user’s community. The app uses the Bluetooth capabilities built into Glass to regularly scan for other BLE beacons in the vicinity.
The user, or user’s caregiver, must first assign a beacon to individuals in the user’s circle. When the user gives the command for EyeRemember to create a new contact, the app initiates a scan of BLE beacons in the vicinity. When one is detected, it offers the user the opportunity to attach contact information to the beacon by entering a name, relationship information and a photo. After the user creates the contact, he or she can add notes about that person, or possibly things the user wants to tell that person.
The next time the beacon for an individual contact enters the vicinity of the Glass wearer, the beacon will be identified by the EyeRemember app. The contact information “card” for that individual will appear automatically on Glass, showing a photo, name and relationship for the contact. The user can then select that card to view existing notes or add new ones.
“EyeRemember is still in the testing phase. So far, clinicians and patients have been very receptive to the prototype. But, we’re still assessing the app’s effectiveness as a memory aid,” says Wallace, who is leading the clinical evaluation of the app.
Google announced in January 2015 that it was closing the Explorer program and moving the Glass program from the experimental Google X Lab to become its own Google team. At that time, Google promised future versions of Glass. The current version of Glass is still being sold to certified partners – companies in healthcare, manufacturing and other industries whose workers need hands-free access to information – in the Glass at Work program.
“We’re committed to going forward with our research and development efforts on Glass,” Dr. Morris says. “We are beginning to gather important data on app interfaces for wearable displays – whether on Glass or watches or wrist bands – for people with brain injury and their clinicians, especially for memory remediation. And, we think that Glass-like wearable hardware worn on the head is likely to mature rapidly into a robust consumer technology.”
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 900 inpatients, 575 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year.