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Bulletin No. 34, February 2012


Welcome to AT R&D News, a free monthly newsletter from FAST with the latest on research and development in the AT field. Our aim is to help researchers stay up to date with national developments, local initiatives and research projects relevant to the AT community. There are also regular updates on sources of funding, AT jobs, conferences and opportunities to share knowledge about the AT sector.


  1. Funding update
  2. New projects
  3. RAATE 2012
  4. AT in the news
  5. Call for papers
  6. Jobs
  7. Events and resources

1. Funding update

  • The AAL Association is due to announce the 5th Call for proposals of the AAL Joint Programme opens on 29th February 2012. Call 5 aims to encourage the development of ICT-based solutions which enable and sustain older adults to continue managing their daily activities in their home, and which will also support informal carers in their assistance.

    There is to be an information event on 13th March 2012, in Brussels, covering all aspects of the Call, which is entitled ICT-based Solutions for (Self) Management of Daily Life Activities of Older Adults at Home.  In the UK, the Technology Strategy Board will be committing £1.2m to the programme, which will be matched by equivalent funding from EPSRC. Applications are expected to close on 31st May 2012. More details via this link.
  • The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is launching a new competition to establish NIHR Healthcare Technology Co-operatives (HTCs). These centres of expertise will be focused in clinical areas or themes of high morbidity and unmet need for NHS patients. Working collaboratively with industry, they will lead to the development of new medical devices, healthcare technologies or technology-dependent interventions, which improve treatment and quality of life for patients. 

    This new scheme builds on learning from a pilot scheme that funded two HTCs from 2008. One of these, based in Sheffield, was responsible for the innovative dignity bidet commode developed for stroke survivors which won an NHS Innovation Award in 2009. The closing date for submission of the Pre-Qualifying Questionnaire by NHS Trusts in England is 19th April 2012. Full details here.
  • The NIHR Programme Grant for Applied Research Applications invites research proposals from leading research groups for a coherent series of related projects to tackle high priority health issues. Proposals should provide evidence to improve health outcomes in England through promotion of health, prevention of ill health, and optimal disease management (including safety and quality), with particular emphasis on conditions causing significant disease burden. Funding of up to £2m is available over a period of three to five years. The deadline for outline proposals is 19th March 2012 and there is more information here.
  • The NIHR Research for Patient Benefit (RfPB) Programme invites applications for applied research projects to provide benefit for NHS patients and other users of health and social care services. RfPB is a nationally co-ordinated funding stream for regionally commissioned research. Projects are funded to a maximum of £250k for up to 36 months. Deadline is 25th March 2012 and there are more details here.
  • The Research Councils UK Digital Economy Theme is supporting research to rapidly realise the transformational impact of digital technologies on aspects of community life, cultural experiences, future society, and the economy. ‘Research in the Wild’ is about enabling researchers, in the digital economy, to expose and test their research ideas with potential beneficiaries – for example, the individual, business and/or society – in order to get closer to achieving a viable proposition with potential for transformational impact.

    Applicants are invited to express their interest to apply for short-term funding to perform their Digital Economy ‘Research in the Wild’ in three challenge areas:

*Sustainable Society - Digital technologies can be used to make services more sustainable and enhance current systems (economic, environmental and social), in a way that is accessible, affordable, bespoke and popular.
*IT as a Utility - To realise the digital economy, digital infrastructure should be so simple, accessible and reliable it is invisible to the consumer.
*New Economic Models - New business models in a digital economy will create a more flexible, dynamic, resilient and individual-centred economy for the UK.

The deadline for the initial expression of interest stage is 18th April 2012 and there is more information via this link

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2. New projects

  • People with intellectual disabilities often have poor access to health care, which may be further compromised by a lack of accessible health information. As a result, they may have difficulty making informed decisions about possible treatment, and therefore either receive treatment they do not want or miss out on treatment which would be appropriate for their needs. Researchers at the University of Brighton and Imperial College London are working on a project to develop a NHS toolkit for obtaining consent for hospital admission from adults with learning disability incorporating a novel virtual world experience. The aim is to investigate the use of a customised immersive virtual environment (IVE) as a means of explaining hospital procedures and treatments to people with learning disabilities. The IVE contains a storyboard example, pre-programmed to represent a particular patient experience.  So far twenty participants from a social centre in Brighton for people with learning disabilities have tried out the IVE. The scenarios include clinical staff and interactive medical equipment, and users can log in and tour the environment as an animated avatar whose movements were controlled via the keyboard and mouse. The environment also includes 3-D images of the landmarks around the hospital in Brighton and images of local scenes. The results suggest that participants engaged with the scenario as if they were actually there, which encouraged them to talk about previous experiences and also demonstrated the potential for this approach to become the foundation of new learning about a health care-related scenario. For more details, go here.
  • Many people who are registered blind, such as older people who develop age-related macular degeneration (AMD), retain some residual vision. They may, for example, be able to see some light, or have limited vision at the periphery. However, this reduced level of vision means individuals may have difficulty navigating obstacles in a complex environment, such as a shopping centre, which limits their independence. Researchers at Oxford University have built prototypes of a low-cost non-invasive visual prosthetic for blindness which is worn like a pair of glasses and which uses sophisticated software to understand what is in front of the wearer. The device consists of a minute camera mounted on glass frames that is connected to a small computer. Tiny LEDs embedded in the glass lens will light up to represent objects and movement in the wearer's visual field. Using the camera, the software will recognise objects of interest and the LEDs will display them in a way that is simplified enough and bright enough to enable a person with limited sight to distinguish nearby objects.  The team is also looking at how Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology could be used to read information such as bus numbers. More information via this link
  • The Muscular Dystrophy Campaign is funding a pilot project investigating the use of a novel ankle foot orthosis and footwear combination to improve walking stability in children with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). Children with DMD often toe walk to compensate for their leg weakness and so develop contractures - a loss of joint motion - initially at the ankle. As the weakness and contractures progress, balance becomes more difficult, leading to the loss of independent walking. In a study being undertaken at the Robert Jones & Agnes Hunt Hospital's Orthopaedic Rehabilitation Unit ten boys with DMD will try out a novel ankle foot orthosis. Researchers will measure its effect on walking parameters using three dimensional movement analysis and measure changes in activity levels using a physical activity logging system - an electronic device that measures activity including time spent upright and number of steps. The project will also measure the direct impact on the boys as their opinion is an important factor in the study. Find out more here

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3. RAATE 2012

  • RAatE 2012 is to be held on Monday 26th November 2012, at the Warwick University conference centre in Coventry. This is the only UK conference focused on the latest innovations and developments in assistive technology and will be of interest to anyone who uses, works with, develops or conducts research on assistive technology (AT). This year's keynote speaker is Professor Mark Hawley who leads the Rehabilitation and Assistive Technology Research Group at the University of Sheffield.

    The Call for Papers for RAatE will open shortly. Topics of special interest for this year include:

*Mobile AT Apps
*Special Access
*Service Developments
*Case Studies
*Outcome Analysis & Measurement
*AT in Ageing & Long Term Conditions

However, RAatE welcomes contributions from healthcare professionals, researchers, service providers and users on the full range of products and services designed to enable independence for disabled and older people. If you have a paper or poster that you would like to present that does not fall in to any of the above topics we would still like to hear from you. The deadline for submission of abstracts is 16th July 2012. For more details, visit the RAatE website here.  

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4. AT in the news

  • The Newcastle University and NHS team who helped develop the FAST (face, arms, speech and time) system to identify a stroke are now piloting an app to ensure the best treatment for stroke patients.  The iPad app, called DASH II, is being trialled in Newcastle and North Tyneside hospitals to help weigh up the risks and benefits of different treatments for people who have had an ischaemic stroke. It provides a visual interpretation of the risks and benefits for the patient which are displayed as a coloured pictograph, bar chart or flow diagram which helps the medical team explain the predicted likelihood of recovery, moderate or severe disability, or death with or without thrombolysise brain. The development has been funded by a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Programme Grant.  Find out more here.  
  • The 2012 NIHR Research Professorships competition has opened. The awards fund research leaders in the early part of their careers to promote effective translation of research from 'bench to bedside’ and from 'campus to clinic'. The deadline for institutional nominations is 3rd April 2012 and a maximum of two nominations will be accepted per institution.

    Each award consists of a package to support a professorship, a post-doctoral appointment, research running costs, a travel fund, access to the NIHR Leadership Programme, and the opportunity for a sabbatical, as well as the basic salary costs of the individual plus indirect costs. In the first competition, Professor Louise Robinson of Newcastle University was one of eight to be given a share of around £1.5m (over 5 years) of funding to conduct their research. Professor Robinson’s research aims to improve the quality of community care for people with dementia. There is more about her work here and the NIHR Research Professorships here.  
  • US researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology are working on a tongue drive system which uses a wireless device to enable people with high-level spinal-cord injuries to operate a computer and manoeuvre an electrically powered wheelchair simply by moving their tongues. The newest prototype allows users to wear an inconspicuous dental retainer embedded with sensors to control the system. Read more here.
  • A Dutch inventor has come up with a range of specialised accessories for iPad users with disabilities, designed to offer improved access to the touchscreen facilities. More here
  • An article in the Guardian suggests that Apple is helping re-invent Braille for the digital age, with the iPad, iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, and third generation iPod Touch supporting more than 30 Bluetooth wireless Braille displays. Braille is widely viewed as an important method for helping young children who are blind to learn literacy skills, as it mimics sentence and punctuation requirements which are lost in text-to-audio translations. Find out more here
  • A team of young engineers in India have modified Microsoft's Kinect, a motion sensing input device for the Xbox 360 video game console, and mounted it onto a belt to be worn by people who are blind. Whenever a user encounters an obstacle, the sensors on the belt find the distance and direction of the obstacle and provide vibratory feedback to the user. The vibrations are produced only in the direction of the obstacle and the intensity of the vibration increases as the obstacle gets closer so that the user can identify the direction of obstacle and judge if the obstacle is near or far. Details via this link
  • Jersey-based Zannah Trust has won funding for additional eye gaze systems which it loans to people with complex disabilities based on the island. Details via this link.
  • Comment in the IT press suggests the next version of Microsoft's operating system, Windows 8, will offer much improved accessibility features including a built-in narrator to read text aloud, speech recognition and a magnifier.  There is coverage here, here, and here
  • Iansyst was a winner in Plain Sailing, a Small Businesses Research Initiative (SBRI) launched by JISC TechDis, the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). The firm has used the funding to develop proof of concept for the MyDocStore service. Many users of assistive technology rely on particular combinations of text or need text to be read aloud. Up until now they have had to install preferences on each machine they use and have not been able to load their preferences onto mobile devices, which means access to these technologies is limited while on the move. MyDocStore uses cloud, desktop and mobile based file management to make it quick and easy to transfer files between devices and to convert them to the user's preferred format - whether text, audio or a combination of both – wherever the person is based. For more details, go here.  
  • The numbers of apps for people with autism is increasing all the time, according to a BBC report here
  • The Daily Telegraph has a report on the launch of a new smartphone which is specifically designed for older users in an attempt to bridge the 'digital divide. The new handset offers a 'fuss free' interface with clear, well spaced icons. The manufacturer, Doro, has also developed an internet-based way to let users or carers manage the mobile phone remotely, and has built its own Facebook application to help users keep in touch with family. For more information, go here.

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5. Call for papers

  • The Call for Papers for the Communication Matters CM2012 National Conference, to be held on 23-25 September 2012 at the University of Leicester, is about to close. Papers on any topic addressing the needs of people with severe communication impairment are welcome, and contributions are particularly sought from people who use AAC and family members. If you are unsure but want to talk about the opportunity please contact Patrick Poon on tel. 0845 456 8211 or Closing date for abstract submissions is 18th March 2012 and there is more information here
  • The Design Journal is planning a special issue on Inclusive Design. The publication says that Inclusive Design with its people-centred practice offers a democratic form of design in which the voices and experiences of people, inspire, interpret and interact with the education, training and experience of designers. The special issue will explore the barriers to such partnerships and look at questions such as the role of inclusive design in social innovation, practice and research methods, and ways of involving people in the process of inclusive design. Authors are requested to submit electronically, in MS Word, an abstract (1,000 words maximum) to the editorial assistant, Laura Marinello (, by 7th March 2012.

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6. Jobs

  • The mobile health (mHealth) research team in the Biomedical Signal Processing and e-health group at the Institute of Biomedical Engineering in Oxford is looking to recruit a Postdoctoral Research Assistant. This is a three year post within the group working on telehealth for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). The candidate will work on the development of software for Android smart phones and tablets for electronic patient diaries for COPD and on the web pages for displaying the patient data to optimise the remote management of COPD patients. The project aims to develop a scalable telehealth platform, configurable for chronic illness management in the home, and based on mobile communications technology. More details via this link.
  • The University of Aberdeen's dot.rural Digital Economy Research Hub has a vacancy for a Research Fellow Natural Language Generation / Intelligent User Interfaces. The successful candidate will have a good knowledge of techniques in natural language processing, an interest in natural language generation and experience of designing intelligent user interfaces in general. Enthusiasm for digital technology and innovation relevant to society and the economy is essential as is the ability to work in a cross-disciplinary team including colleagues in healthcare and ecology. Details here.

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7. Events and resources

  • The NIHR Clinical Research Network has launched a number of videos to help patients develop a better understanding of the range of people involved in NHS-based research, what they do and how this benefits treatments and services. Details here.
  • The Technology Strategy Board (TSB) has launched a new website, called Tomorrow Together, which aims to encourage a national conversation about the future needs of older adults and to investigate ways in which innovation can respond to those needs. It includes case studies, news stories, and video clips of experts and is also seeking comments and information from anyone with an interest in the topic.  The website is here.
  • The DAP Connect project, funded by the Technology Strategy board, is investigating current and future trends in the telecare and telehealth sector, to learn how people working within the sector see its future , and what may assist its growth. The Foundation for Assistive Technology (FAST) is conducting a survey on behalf of the DAP Project and is keen to hear from people who currently provide a telecare or telehealth service. We would be grateful to anyone who could spare 5-10 minutes to take part in a short online survey, which can be found here. Responses are needed by Thursday 15th March, and will be used for our work to increase understanding of the telecare and telehealth sector and support its development.
  • Body Sensor Network (BSN) technology has gained significant interest in recent years from researchers both in academia and industry. BSN 2012 will be held May 10th - 12th in London. The conference features a number of invited lectures by leading academic researchers and industrial experts. It will also include showcases and demonstrations of the latest BSN developments. For more information, go here.

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