Alexa: Can you help people with traumatic brain injuries?
Six years ago, when I started working with smart speakers, I had to go into a long explanation about the “Echo” and who Alexa was. I remember the very first Amazon smart speaker commercial and thought to myself, “what is this strange black tube that tells the weather?” Fast forward to the famous SNL skit, Alexa is now a household name. I have multiple units in my home, and I most certainly ask her about the weather (and you probably do too). But “she” is capable of so much more! In my research with older adults who have Dementia, she read stories to someone who couldn’t understand words on a page. She helped them change their home temperature with only their voice and assisted them to remember how they felt the day before through voice notes they made. Writing a grocery list or tapping on the phone to call someone, a simple task for you and me, but for someone with tremors or low vision, telling “Alexa, put potatoes on my grocery list” or “call mom” is beneficial.
Imagine you are lying in your bed; you wake up and are staring at the ceiling and have to wait three hours for someone to help you prop up to watch tv or read your tablet. A person who is injured and cannot move can have the power to modify their bed position, turn on the TV, and bring up a newspaper, only by using their voice.
Students at the University of Maryland, College Park’s Information Science program at the Universities at Shady Grove (USG) have created a research team to show how Voice-user Interface Technology (like Alexa) can make a positive impact in a person’s life. The team decided to focus their research on Veterans with Traumatic Brain Injuries. By controlling various aspects of their house through their voice, they can regain independence and feel supported in their own home as long as possible without the need for institutionalization.
Using a voice command can help someone who has a cognitive condition or is paralyzed and has limited hand or finger mobility. Veterans with TBI can access and control many aspects of their home, such as lights, doorbell cameras, thermostats, TV, and their bed. Voice recognition is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and we are setting out to explore how we can customize and fit the needs of those who need it the most.
If you are also passionate about technology and how it can make a huge difference in someone’s life, a B.S. in Information Science may be a great fit. Our interdisciplinary program focuses on the intersection of people, technology, and information. Our students are excited about making a difference by doing research, engaging in internships, and find the opportunities InfoSci provides exceptionally fulfilling. Contact me to learn more!
Galina Madjaroff is a faculty member at the University of Maryland, College Park’s iSchool, and Program Director for the InfoSci program at USG. Her research focus is on improving the quality of life of those who suffer with cognitive impairments including elders and individuals with disabilities through low-cost, consumer technology. She is passionate about teaching and supporting students in finding internship, research and career opportunities.