ASTERICS project develops adaptable assistive technology system
5 August 2013
The EC-funded ASTERICS project has developed an assistive technology
system with a set of software, controller and actuators that can be
adapted to the needs of individual users for controlling devices in the
The system consists of open source software and a range of
commercially available equipment: set of sensors, a brain-computer
interface and computer vision with a range of actuators/switches for
operation by disabled people.
The system can open a door, turn on a light or connect to the
internet at the blink of an eye, a head movement or even a thought,
and can be made more flexible and customisable for individual users.
The technology was developed over two years in the ASTERICS
project (Assistive technology rapid integration and construction
set) with the support of €2.65 million in funding from the European
Commission. It has already gone into commercial production and
on-going research is set to enhance it further.
Stefan Parker, project coordinator and researcher at KI-I in
Austria, said, "What I would call the 'old' AT-market is dominated
by isolated applications and devices, each addressing a specific
disability or focusing on a specific ability of the user. This is in
principle good, since it means that each device can be brilliantly
optimised in its functionality. The trouble is that in most actual
use cases these devices only manage to take advantage of a part of
the user's abilities or, in other cases, are not properly adaptable
to the user's needs, leaving him or her with a device that is merely
semi-optimal for their use case.''
''The AT market is currently subject to great change. On the one
hand, mobile devices like smart phones and tablet PCs are conquering
the world, and this has a great influence on the AT market. On the
other hand, more user-centred and more flexible approaches towards
AT are being generated, ASTERICS being the first and therefore most
Unlike traditional AT systems, the ASTERICS platform can be
configured to meet the specific needs of individual users. It is
possible to choose from a wide variety of sensors, from simple
switches or webcams to advanced ''brain-computer interfaces'' (BCI),
for interaction with the system depending on the requirements and
abilities of each person.
The input data, no matter how it
is generated, is processed by the ''ASTERICS Runtime Environment''
(ARE). The software can easily be installed on a Windows-based
machine and uses so-called ''models'', configured for each user, to
process and execute user commands on any device in order to use
their smart phone or computer, and to control their air conditioning
or open a window in their home.
The models are built and configured via a dedicated configuration
programme, the ''ASTERICS Configuration Suite'' (ACS) in which,
through a graphical interface, it is possible to combine several
plug-ins for input, signal processing and output and connect them
via data-channels and event-channels. Once completed, a model is
simply uploaded to the ARE, where several models can be stored, so
the user can have different options for different use cases.
There are also extension modules for the connection of sensors,
which can be connected either to the platform or to any other
computer via a standard USB cable, along with a HID actuator — a
small USB-interface that acts like a standard wireless plug-and-play
device, emulating mouse, keyboard or joystick.
approach results in a completely user-centred on-site development of
AT. The user no longer needs to adapt to the device, it's the other
way round. This goes so far that users can even make small
adaptations themselves, or their carer can make them for them, to
react to changes in the daily situation,'' Mr Parker notes. ''Also
the system can be adapted every time a user's condition changes for
better or worse. Users no longer need to buy a new device every time
their condition changes or use the old one despite having a hard
time doing so. They can continue to use the system they are
accustomed to and like, but with a new means of input or just with
People suffering from motor
disabilities, as well as specialised carers and AT experts, were
consulted by the ASTERICS team throughout the design and development
process, and prototype platforms received overwhelmingly positive
feedback in trials.
''ASTERICS was really appreciated by
users and during the course of the user tests we were able to give
possibilities to people that they wouldn't have had without the
system. Some users have continued to use the ASTERICS system since
the user tests and are very happy with it,'' Mr Parker says.
Crucially, the system is relatively cheap to install, and can
make use of users' existing devices, such as the webcam on their
laptop, to reduce costs further. Mr Parker estimates that most
people would need to spend around €500, excluding the cost of buying
a laptop or home PC, for a suitable set up, though it could run to
several thousand euro if more expensive equipment such as a
brain-computer interface is required.
IMA, a project partner
based in the Czech Republic, is currently producing commercial
hardware, including input/output modules for use with the system,
while Harpo in Poland, another partner, is the prime distributor of
the complete system and provides adaptation and customisation
The team's goal now is to continue their research
and launch a follow-up project to extend the system to mobile
devices such as smart phones and tablets.
The ASTERICS website: