The ALS Association
ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Progress

ALS Assistive Technology Challenge

Prize Phase Teams

Gina Baldwin, M.S., CCC-SLP, Principle, APP2Speak™
Shang Gao, Independent Senior Software Consultant
Christopher Brown, Videographer Lead and Marketing
Robert Windisch, Technical Lead

Title: APP2Speak™

Project Goal: APP2Speak™ is an easy-to-use augmentative and alternative communication application for the iPad to assist adults in the process of everyday communication situations.

Researcher Summary:
APP2Speak™ goes beyond traditional stick figures and cartoon characters by using proprietary preset photos with the capability to be customized using real time photos. Users are able to plan for the future by designing and creating their own custom pages prior to their disease progression. Preset pages include 80 photos with speech output for a word or phrase describing a want or a need. Male and female voice is available. The page/photo size can be easily adjusted for visual difficulties. Custom pages are unlimited and allow for conversational phrases and sentence building options. Personalize APP2Speak™ using your own photos or take a picture within APP2Speak™, add words, phrases and select text to speech or record your own voice. APP2Speak™ is compatible with external switches within the accessibility features on the iPad for use with the physically challenged. APP2Speak™ was created and developed in 2013 and came to life on iTunes in July of 2014. Currently, we are in the process of adding new features. Future development plans include; additional platforms, i.e., Android, Microsoft, additional languages, custom page drop down boxes, and new options for sharing custom pages. For more information visit

David Slimpin
Robert Holmes

Title: Adaptive Force Sense Resistor (FSR) Button

Project Goal: To seek sponsorship for the final development and commercial implementation of a modified Force Sense Resistor, a microprocessor button system that works with computers, which is sensitive to patients’ muscle strength. The goal is to make this device available to as many people as possible, including ALS patients, who will benefit from this technology.

Researcher Summary:
Dave’s friend was stricken with ALS and he recognized that his friend had difficulty communicating with his family through a tablet computer. Dave also recognized that simple push buttons would never provide the adaptive sensitivity needed as his friend’s strength diminished and they would not be able to tolerate/ignore strong muscle seizures. From this experience, Dave developed a single microprocessor prototype system based on the commercially available Force Sense Resistor (FSR). The device adjusts sensitivity to the patient’s muscle strength and the software also tolerates/ignores involuntary gripping due to seizures. It was immediately put into use and utilized for the duration of his friend’s disease. Dave modified the hand grips, which improved comfort, prevented hand rotation and aligned the thumb to the sensor. The device can be used at any stage of the disease. We are seeking a customer/sponsor for final development and commercial implementation of the device. Our goal is to get this device to as many people as possible who will benefit from this technology. While the device was originally developed for patients with ALS, we believe it can also benefit many others with diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease, among others.


Prof. Steve O'Keefe, The Staunton Media Lab

Title: Hearing Glasses

Project Goal: To complete the design and development of hearing glasses, a technology that enables the wearer the ability to see the words that people are speaking through their glasses. This technology has many advantages including portability, compatibility and low cost.

Researcher Summary:
Hearing Glasses are based on Google Translate, IBM Watson and similar programs that convert speech into text. When combined with "smart glasses" technology, Hearing Glasses enable the wearer to see the words people are speaking. This solution has many advantages, including portability, compatibility and low cost. Hearing Glasses unlock the rich media world surrounding those with ALS. They allow access to widely-available devices such as phones, computers, televisions and tablets. They enable those who suffer hearing loss as a result of ALS to understand people in conversation, radio broadcasts, TV programs and online videos.

Hearing Glasses are in the design phase. Progress can move quickly because they rely on readily available technology such as smart glasses and voice translation. Recent developments make the project even more attractive. IBM now licenses access to Watson's incredible transcription and translation services. This provides another vendor to choose from, helping speed development while keeping costs down. We estimate it will take six months to go into production at a cost below $100/pair. The Staunton Media Lab is staffed mostly by individuals who have hearing impairment, vision impairment and/or cognitive impairment. When combined, our unique language capabilities lead to novel solutions to communications problems.

Dianne Goodwin, M.E., B.M.E., BlueSky Designs, Minneapolis

Title: Power positioning of speech devices and other essential equipment

Project Goal: To expand on the capabilities of a powered mounting and positioning system that allows independent repositioning of communication, hydration and suctioning devices by people at various stages living with ALS.

Researcher Summary:
Eye gaze and head tracking technologies have greatly increased access to communication, but speech devices must be in very specific positions and orientation relative to one’s face. This project addresses the pervasive problem—when a patient’s position changes, they cannot access their device. Until someone else moves it, they cannot communicate or use their device. What if the device could move itself to the right position? This team has developed a powered mounting and positioning system, which allows independent repositioning by people at various stages of ALS via accessible inputs. This project expands on its capabilities, enabling automatic repositioning of speech devices for eye gaze access to positions within the calibration zone. The principal development goal is to move the device to targeted positions relative to a person’s face, especially their eyes and mouth. Auto-positioning applications extend beyond communication to hydration and suctioning, for example bringing a suction tube to a person’s mouth and controlling the suction machine. Additional project goals include the following: developing a powered rotator to adjust for changes in a person’s head positioning; control of other devices; and movement routines so the device returns to the last-used position or moves based on the time or at timing intervals.

John Costello, B.S., M.A., Boston Children’s Hospital, Boston

Title: Message Bank Conversion and Storage Software for ALS Patients

Project Goal: To develop a software based system that allows people to use hand held recording devices to bank messages throughout the day in functional and in the moment scenarios and then download those directly to software that can label, categorize and archive the messages.

Researcher Summary:
The proposed project will spark a major paradigm shift in ALS care. Currently most patients are not introduced to message banking either because of provider lack of awareness, false assumption that it must be done in an isolated and sterile environment or more importantly, a reluctance to invest time and energy required to record, store and categorize voice messages. The researchers plan to develop a software based system that allows people to use hand held recording devices to bank messages throughout the day in functional and in the moment scenarios. People living with ALS can then download those messages directly to software that can label, categorize and archive them, in order to dramatically reduce the barrier to entry. Moreover, this will restore dignity and hope to thousands of people with ALS during a time of uncertainty and fear by providing family members with a life long legacy.

Principle Investigators:
Peter Desain, Jordy Thielen and Colleen Monaghan, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behavior

Evy Reviers, ALS Liga Begium; Joost Raaphorst, Radboud UMC Neurology; Janneke Weikamp and Jan Groothuis, Radboud UMC Rehabilitation

Title: Finally a fast and reliable Brain Computer Interface

Project Goal: Our vision is to share brain computer interface (BCI) technology in the form of open software and a kit, such that any developer of assistive technology for ALS can use BCI as input without EEG knowledge, but with simplicity and ease.

Researcher Summary:
Brain Computer Interfaces allow paralyzed patients to communicate with mental activity alone but are still slow and unreliable. They require long calibration times and exhibit characteristics that prevent their use as communication solution for ALS patients. A recent neuro-scientific and machine-learning breakthrough, based on a model that predicts the electroencephalogram (EEG) signal for unseen stimulus patterns, allows a radical increase in performance and reliability. Our BCI allows typing a character per second, adapts on the fly to loose electrodes, is insensitive to artifacts, is plug-and-play (zero-training) and allows lower quality (dry) EEG headsets. The tags, fast flicker patterns that are not unpleasant to watch, can be displayed on the computer screen but can also be attached as a button to real moving objects, such as equipment for care, utensils, doors. The technology allows for tactile and auditory use for patients losing control of their eyes. Our project has delivered fully functional prototypes, but our vision is to share the technology in the form of open software and a kit, such that any developer of assistive technology for ALS can use BCI as input, without the need for specific EEG knowledge and can be as simple as connecting to a keyboard or mouse.


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