Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ideas unlimited

Scientist Tom Chau, head of the Bloorview Research Institute, discusses his latest work and the importance of innovation in the field of childhood disability. Tom recently received U of T’s Inventor of the Year award.  

Story by: Megan Jones


Thank you for posting Tom's interview.

In talking about this technology for communicating without vocal speach, he mentions finding secondary markets for expanding use of developments. Would these types of devices assist a person with Locked In Syndrome to be able to communicate? He mentioned the device for humming. I just wonder...


I fully support Brain Computer Interfacing, but my question, for Mr. Chau, is this: "Why not create 'a decoding system' which can work in relation to The Hummer?"

For example, the alphabet consists of 26 letters, and all are arranged on a touch-tone as follows: 2 (abc), 3 (def), 4 (ghi) 5 (jkl), 6 (mno), 7 (pqrs), 8 (tuv), 9 (wxyz)

Hence, if a child wanted to type the word "Play", he or she could hum to select the number and the appropriate letter. Play is spelled "7-5-2-9"

By memorizing the alphabet, as depicted above, I am able to text in my head.

Matt Kamaratakis

Dear Gail,

Thank you for your comment. Indeed, we often talk about individuals with LIS in our research and have in fact trialed some of our devices with this population. They present with similar communication needs as some of the children we work with.

Kind regards,

Dear Matt,

Great suggestion. We have recently published a coding system using the hummer for wheelchair-driving. So yes, what you suggest is entirely possible.

What we tried to do was to distinguish between long and short, high and low hums, and to arrange multiple hums in a sequence. People did find it challenging at times but it remains a potential alternative for someone who can create different sounding hums.

With your suggestion, we'd still need a way to disambiguate the letter once the number was chosen since there are multiple letters associated with each number. Perhaps there could be a subsequent hum to select the desired letter within the group. Anyhow, thanks for posting your idea. Definitely something we will keep in mind.

Kind regards,

Dear Tom,

My gifts lie in the art of communication, writing and speaking for others, as I am no computer engineer. However, maybe in the not to distant future, I could be working with Tracey, helping to obtain some much needed research capital.

Nonetheless, this does not mean that I am out of suggestions. For example, your idea to disambiguate or select a letter with a subsequent hum, once a number has been chosen, is a good idea. But, what if we could make life a little easier for your clients?

For instance, "Could we not have a continual scanner highlighting the numbers? Then, once a number has been decided upon, by a hum or sound, could a computer not begin highlighting those sequences of letters by default?

Moreover, my idea of a decoding system stems from the use of my cellular phone, as my cerebral palsy prevents me from texting on a Smartphone. Therefore, I can tell you, "Punctuation can be accessed by pressing '1' on the keypad while composing a message."

I also realize that this technology is becoming obsolete, but utilizing it in another fashion may be beneficial. As for me, "I grew up at Holland Bloorview --I will adapt."

Lastly, some children, whom are unable to communicate by conventional means, still possess the ability to speak a few words. We need to "maximize" this gift.

I truly thank you for your time.

Take care,

Matt Kamaratakis