portugalscience

IPS releases research at the service of people with disabilities

Projects propose support solutions for various types of disability

In the month that marks the World Day for People with Disabilities (December 3), the Polytechnic Institute of Setúbal (IPS) marked the event with a session of the “Ciência à Conversa” cycle, specially dedicated to the dissemination of its research projects that seek new solutions to facilitate the daily lives of people with some type of disability.

In the initiative, which takes place monthly, promoted by the Support Unit for Innovation, Research, and Development and Entrepreneurship (UAIIDE-IPS), two exploratory projects financed by the institution itself and with the involvement of students who are an example of how areas of health and technology can and should work hand in hand, with clear benefits for citizens.

In the case of the SEU project – Services to Empower You, the first steps were taken toward the development of an intelligent and adaptive platform for the acquisition of services by people with different disabilities. An idea that emerged as a response to a challenge launched within the scope of the SUPERA 2019 Journeys, in Leiria, an event dedicated to Support and Accessibility Technologies, and which evolved into an exhaustive survey of the specific adaptations to be made in the interaction and process of contracting a service via the Web, taking into account four major groups of disabilities: motor, cognitive, visual and auditory.

This platform allows you to upload explanatory videos with translation into Portuguese Sign Language if the user who entered registers as deaf. If you are a person with cognitive problems, you will have a simpler text or a pictogram available”, exemplified by the researcher in charge, Patrícia Macedo, from the Interdisciplinary Center for Applied Research in Health (CIIAS) of the IPS.

The platform underwent two testing phases, with experts and end users, namely eight users of the Centro de Apoio à Vida Independente (CAVI) of APPACDM in Setúbal. In the end, the exploratory project pointed to the need to develop this same application model for the mobile device format, since it was demonstrated, concluded the researcher, that “most of these users feel much more comfortable working with mobile phones or with tablets. The computer keyboard and mouse proved to be elements that make it difficult to carry out operations”.

The potential of 3D printing in bone regeneration is another area that has been the subject of research at IPS, namely through the Bioscaff project, recently developed in partnership with the national company Bioceramed, which specialized in the production of medical devices.

The project developed an alternative methodology for the production of three-dimensional ceramic scaffolds for bone regeneration, using 3D printing, having verified the feasibility of two different methodologies: direct printing and indirect printing, through the manufacture of molds and subsequent infiltration. The scaffolds are made of non-toxic and biocompatible material and their use eliminates the need for a bone graft, in the case of a severe fracture, for example.

We were able to demonstrate the possibility of using these two methodologies in the production of bone substitutes, which are identical to what the company already makes available, so they do not need recertification”, explained the researcher in charge, Ricardo Batista, from the Product Development Center and Technology Transfer (CDP2T) of the IPS. The possibility of “expanding the range of products available on the market, producing more complex and personalized shapes” was another of the advantages attributed to the studied manufacturing method.

Another area where health and technology come together are the support systems for people who are unable to use speech, a domain in which João Ferreira, a professor at the Escola Superior de Saúde (Speech Therapy) and also a researcher at CIIAS, has been specializing over the years.

One of the examples mentioned was the artificial or synthesized voice, a tool made famous by the physicist Stephen Hawking, who found a way to communicate with the world. When compared with the digitized voice, which implies the existence of a set of previously recorded messages, the synthesized voice “allows unlimited possibilities, since we can use all the lexicon that can be entered in the computer”. However, its use for spontaneous speech remains a challenge.

When we speak in isolated words or sets of two words, the perception of the voices that are available to us today is very close to what a natural voice would be”, considered the researcher, who was part of evaluation teams of speech synthesis systems. The problem arises “with complete sentences, where prosody, accent and other supra-segmental aspects are involved, that is, everything that cannot be programmed in advance”, he concluded.

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