Funding boost for pioneering software to help children with communication difficulties

Funding boost for pioneering software to help children with communication difficulties

Scottish scientists behind the first software of its kind to enable children with communication difficulties to converse better have been awarded more funding to continue their research.

A team of experts from the Universities of Aberdeen and Dundee have developed an artificial intelligence technology system which uses sensors and recording devices to track what the child has experienced at school that day.

The information is then translated into a story which can be shared when they get home.

Now additional funding of £285K by theEngineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is allowing the scientists to explore how the software – called How was School today? - could be further developed:

 

  • Into more compact forms – for example a mobile phone application– to make it accessible to non wheelchair users

 

  • To support children with a wider rangeof language impairments and abilities  

 

  • To support the school curriculum in teaching basic communication skillsto language impaired children

Dr Ehud Reiter, from the University of Aberdeen’s School of Natural and Computing Sciences said: “The additional funding is allowing us to investigate how we can develop How was School today?to make the system more usable and accessible to a wider range of children with different levels and types of communication difficulties. We will also be looking at how we can make the device accessible for non wheelchair users. 

 “The original prototype of the system involved heavy equipment - including a sensor around the size of a phone book – meaning it could only be trialled by wheelchair users.

“We are now looking at translating the software into more compact formats - for example whether it could be developed into a mobile phone application – where the phone would act as both the sensor to track the child’s movements, and the means by which they would communicate the information about their day.”

Collaborative work is now underway with three Scottish schools where staff and pupils are helping trial the technology. 

Investigating how the system can be developed to minimise the amount of input required by teaching staff will be another focus.

Rolf Black from the University of Dundee’s School of Computing: “One of the key aims of How was School today?is to allow children with communications difficulties to share their experiences in a more natural and independent way.

“The current system requires teachers to be involved in helping the children enter their stories into the device. We’ll be looking at how this process can be made more automatic, to simplify and minimise teacher input.”