>The Archimedes Project
>Neil Scott is Director and co-founder of The Archimedes Project, an
>independent research organization at Stanford University since 1991
>that studies barriers to accessing and using information, computers,
>and information appliances, and identifies and designs innovative
>solutions, including personal accessories, that advance universal
>access to and use of information and control of one's environment.
>The Archimedes Project is committed to making information
>technology available to all people, regardless of abilities, needs,
>preferences, and culture. Research that was originally targeted for
>people with disabilities is now being applied to helping aging people
>remain independent, and to make computers easier to use and more
>productive for everyone.
>Neil will discuss some of the interesting research in progress and
>the prospects for commercialization of some by Archimedes Access
>Research and Technology International, Inc., a non-profit corporation
>founded to design, develop, and test prototypes incorporating
>technologies originating from Archimedes Project research.
Neil Scott began his talk by showing us a picture of a guy in a wheel chair with a head tracking apparatus attached to his head. Scott explained that JD had been in a swimming accident when he was 16, and was paralyzed from the neck down. The head tracker and voice recognition input made it easy enough for the guy to use his Macintosh that he could navigate the user interface more efficiently than most normal users. That was the kind of thing that the Archimedes Project was trying to make possible.
Scott then showed us how a good user interface could be used to clear up lots of different kinds of input and feedback issues. He separated the system into user input technology, interpretation of that, and output systems. Efforts were focused on that kind of thing so that standard software packages could be used by more people at relatively low incremental expense.
User input has a lot of opportunities for clever technology. Switches that are comfortable to use for people who can only use their eyebrows to click buttons are quite a challenge, as are voice recognition systems, and machines that track eyeball movement to position the cursor. The Archimedes Project has done much work on such things, and it showed in the wonderful pictures and stories that Scott told us.
As far as possible, Scott prefers to have the input to the computer system look like the standard keyboard and mouse that most users would use. Trying to integrate more closely has the unfortunate side effect of causing a huge pile of rework every time the software changes because Microsoft decided to rearrange the menus, or whatever other things they do to cause users to need to upgrade. He had harsh words about how "addressing bugs" in software was becoming a cash cow to keep consumers on a constant upgrade treadmill. He went so far as to say that we might all be better off if computers stopped changing for twenty years.
Output systems the Archimedes Project has come up with include an audio output system for blind people that makes it possible for them to use a computer to some extent. He also had a language independent animation signing system that was originally developed to speak to deaf people, but might be more widely useful. We all understood the brief movie he showed us, that clearly meant "I'll be landing at 6:30 PM, please pick me up at the airport."
In addition to working with desktop type computers, The Archimedes Project is also doing work with embedded systems, so that people that can't use light switches can say "light on" or "light off", and have the lights go up or out as requested. This kind of work is aimed at making it possible for aging populations to continue to live independently in their declining years, among others.
Scott finished his talk by explaining that The Archimedes Project was now interested in working with others to commercialize the technology they have developed over the last decade or so. He had just returned from a road trip to Hawaii, New Zealand, and Japan to talk to people about the possibilities, and any among us who are interested in such ventures should talk to him at firstname.lastname@example.org*.
*Delete "deletethisword." from the email address to make it work. It's just there as a spam trap.