UAS research project helps overcome barriers across countries

  • The UAS Technikum Wien supports affordable open source-based technologies
  • So far, students in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Nepal and Macedonia have benefited
  • Technology contributes to raising awareness in other cultures
Besuch in der King George VI Special School, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, Die Flipmouse, entwickelt an der FH Technikum Wien Die Flipmouse im Einsatz in Afrika (Athi Special School, Meru, Kenia),

Visit to King George VI Special School, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe; Flipmouse, developed by the UAS Technikum Wien; Flipmouse in action in Africa (Athi Special School, Meru, Kenya) (from left)

Assistive technologies support people with physical or mental handicaps. They enable them to access IT systems, to communicate with their environment, and accordingly become an active part of society. The UAS Technikum Wien makes these technologies available to people beyond Austria's borders within the scope of the AsTeRICS Academy project subsidized by the City of Vienna.

The focus is on open source-based solutions that are able to provide support in everyday activities and when using digital media. Workshops and international networking initiatives enable various target groups to familiarize themselves with these flexible and inexpensive technologies. So far, more than 200 persons have attended such workshops or have tested and co-developed the solutions in Macedonia, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Nepal, among other countries.

Affordable tool kit

The so-called Flipmouse is one of the tools developed at Technikum Wien. This input system allows control of the cursor of a computer or smartphone through minimum movements of the fingers or lips. Moreover, the AsTeRICS Toolkit contains many other useful tools and functions, partly developed at the UAS, partly by other players within the international community. Accordingly, this is not about a product that is sold by Technikum Wien, but about kits, test equipment and designs that are made available to partners or parties interested in technology on site. In this way, the technologies can also be used, reproduced and adjusted in countries with low basic income.

Components of raising awareness

Visits on site by the project team have turned out to be important stimulators of further developments. In Zimbabwe, for instance, work is currently being carried out to independently produce the Flipmouse in future. Apart from the university in Harare, the international NGO World Links is involved here. In part, however, the actual topic is the fundamental acceptance of individuals with handicaps within society: "In African society, the integration of persons with disabilities is quite problematic to some extent", explains project manager Christoph Veigl of the UAS Technikum Wien. "A handicapped child is sometimes considered a disgrace, and people's readiness to support the child is low. The important thing here is raising people's awareness, which we seek to achieve through the solutions we provide."

Focused competence

The MA23 project 14-02 AsTeRICS Academy for Cross-Cultural Education and Research in Assistive Technology, which is subsidized by the City of Vienna, was launched in 2013 and builds on the experience and knowledge gained from several previous subsidized projects. The project team of five members, based at the Institute for Embedded Systems of the UAS Technikum Wien, is working on the development of assistive technologies, but especially on spreading them within the scope of international workshops and teaching at the UAS.

In July 2015, the first AsTeRICS Academy International Summer School was organized at the UAS Technikum Wien in this context. During an exciting project week, 30 students from 13 countries were given an opportunity to obtain knowledge in various spheres of assistive technology and to benefit from the wealth of experience of numerous international guest lecturers. In July of this year, there is going to be a remake of this event.

The UAS is increasingly developing into a regional center for the topic of assistive technologies: last fall, the Smart Homes and Assistive Technologies Bachelor course was launched – a unique academic training course to date, providing knowledge with respect to both the development of technologies and their application by and with persons with special needs. The course is in high demand.