Can assistive technology save computing?

Can assistive technology save computing?

Summary: Last year just 8,000 people graduated with computing majors, nationwide, the lowest figure in years. Can assistive technology turn that around?

TOPICS: Hardware

Univeristy of Buffalo assistive technology learning projectComputing is becoming an old man's game. (Picture from the University of Buffalo. Go Bulls.)

Last year just 8,000 people graduated with computing majors, nationwide, the lowest figure in years.

Can assistive technology turn that around? Michael Buckley at the University of Buffalo thinks so.  

With just $60,000 in Microsoft grants (a pittance to Mr. Softee) he is inspiring a generation of new geeks to do Socially Relevant Computing.

He's built an Assistive Technology Laboratory, but he admits many of the best ideas come from visits to the Center for Handicapped Children's Learning Center in nearby Williamsville.

There his students meet vibrant, alive, but severely challenged kids who inspire them to great projects, such as:

  • DISCO, which uses light, sound, and tactile stimulation to create a learning environment with positive feedback for the severely disabled.
  • Firefighter Monitoring gear to keep track of a first responder's vital signs while they are in danger.
  • Remotely-controlled wheelchairs, controlled by caregivers, for people who can't even use a joystick.
  • BUTTON MAKER, a computing interface for the severely disabled aimed at enabling learning.
  •  VAPP, a videoconferencing system for the severely disabled aimed at distance learning.
  • People Tracker, a Zigbee network which does passive monitoring of people in nursing homes to make sure they stay safe.
  • Nexus, a home controller with a visual programming language to help disabled people control their environment.

The work has also inspired Rice professor Devika Subramanian, who produced a paper on modeling human behavior on visualmotor tasks. Even the simplest adaptive technology needs sound theory behind it.

Buckley has his own paper to offer, on the benefits of using socially-relevant projects in computer science and engineering education. He has also won two teaching awards at UB.

He's on to something in two ways.

First, we need more focus on assistive technology, and need to stop assuming everyone must be completely abled to be part of the world we're building.

Second, the past focus on money as the sole aim of computing doesn't work when the money flows out. We need something more to keep American computing vibrant.

Topic: Hardware

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Indians Only Hire Indians

    America is being overrun by Indians, flooding into companies like locusts, taking over departments, and implementing "Indian Only" hiring policies.

    Why would any sane person go into a field that is on the front lines of the cheap labor agenda of our own government?

    Yes, I want to work my tail off, take on enormous debts, so I can enter a job market where the salaries are spiralling downwards, Indians are flooding the market in unlimited numbers via the ever-so-secret L1 visa program, and the only guarantee I have is that I will be laid off and unemployed with no relevant job skills in the very near future.
    • What brought that on?

      May have been Ravika Subramanian.

      Have you seen her vitae? Top in her class, tops at Stanford, multiple awards for teaching, and cute as a button besides!

      I for one welcome our new Indian overlords! Or do you mean the Mexicans, who are mostly descended from American Indians?
    • True, possibly, but I don't see the relevance of that to the main article.

      As for the article, assistive technology helps the feeble and handicapped... but for what, if offshoring is here to stay? (maybe your response has more relevance than we originally thought?)
  • RE: Can assistive technology save computing?

    johnboyer's comments are precisely the type of negative sensationalism towards computer science that discourages young, bright and creative minds from stepping up to solving challenging--and important--computing problems. It's a shame.

    The current lack of American computing professionals represents a very real threat to national security. "Our very own government" is frantically searching for young American computer scientists to help solve some critical problems.

    At the very least, it johnboyer's despair shows his acceptance that America is doomed to rely on other nations for new innovations. It's a despair I hope not many Americans share.