Tuesday, August 9, 2011

There's NOT an App for That: Movile Devices Turned Service Animals

Hearing impairmentImage via Wikipedia
Just read a great article about extending the iPhone for hearing problems and thought about extending it for other sensory impairments:
 iPhone App developers, take note: for the first time in awhile, I’ve found a situation where I can’t say, “there’s an app for that!” and I need one.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation when you simply didn’t hear something, such as the kettle whistling? or the water running because the TV was too loud, or there were screaming kids? It happens to everyone, whether or not you’re deaf. These are situations that can have negative effects if unattended. In this post, I’m going to explore the possibility of our mobile devices being able to provide us with essential notification of environmental sounds before things get messy–or burnt.

Mobile Devices-turned-Service Animals?

Ever since then, there have been instances when I’ve said, “Well… A hearing dog would’ve been nice to have just now!” It dawned on me this morning as I cleaned up my mess that perhaps our mobile devices could provide us with similar notification mechanisms. The hearing dogs are trained to repsond to a specific sound pattern, and since they obviously can’t talk, they lead the deaf partner to the source of the sound. I can envision a buzzing notification with the text, “Kettle Whistling” on the top – as in the mockup image to the right.  If our mobile devices can instantly identify songs played over the radio or TV through mobile applications such as Shazam, then surely our mobile devices (iPhones, Android-devices) can eventually, by way of an application or operating system feature, could recognize environmental sounds and provide a unique vibrating pattern and text to alert the deaf individual.
To be clear, service animals provide an incredible variety of services beyond alerting their lucky owners to boiling kettles and ringing doorbells. I’m not suggesting anything should replace them! But, for those of us looking for elements of that remarkable service, the phones in our hands could offer an answer. You develop it, I’ll test it! And really, my pots and pans will thank you.

I am wondering if, in addition, to turning an iPhone into an alert system for the deaf, whether an iPhone could be adapted for the visually impaired and blind.  A lot is being done for pattern recognition in video by the defense department.  The intelligence agencies have just awarded some money to BBN for neurologically based context recognition.  I think there could be  different settings depending on the level of impairment.  More awareness for the blind, less awareness for the less impaired.  I was thinking about a shopping app for stores where crowded visual fields of shopping aisles could be made less crowded.  Or some sort of processing of images for folks suffering from cataracts or macular degeneration to help them sort out their blind spots.

There is also work on digitizing smell.  If smell can be digitized, then it can be processed and analyzed.  For those suffering from anosomia (lack or severe impairment of the sense of smell), imagine pointing your iPhone in your kitchen and being able to detect bad smells coming from your refrigerator or garbage can.  Imagine pointing your iPhone at a pile of laundry, and knowing that YOU ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO DO THE LAUNDRY NOW!   Or, pointing the iPhone at yourself to pick up body odor, and saying OMG, I ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO TAKE A SHOWER, RIGHT NOW!!!

I do think the author of the post is right about an iPhone not completely taking the place of a service animal.  Even those of us, who do pet our iPhones, know that it is not the same as petting an animal.  Staring at an iPhone, as much as we adore our devices, will not be the same as looking into an animal's eyes, an animal who loves you unconditionally.  Evolutionary psychology accepts that animals do have consciousness--not the same consciousness as humans, but a consciousness none the less.   

There really isn't  a therapeutic model for illnesses that takes psyche and emotion into account.  At some level, practitioners know that it is there some where, but it is often not part of the course of treatment until it is a pathology.  I don't see anything where people are taking lessons from positive psychology and really using those lessons as part of a treatment course.  You know, upping your ability for bonding, attachment, and getting into a state of flow.   Animals and Loved Ones can do that automatically.  Devices can't.

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