VirtuAssist: increasing the autonomy of persons with cognitive disability in working environments

People with learning difficulties or memory problems face barriers in the working environment because they need extra supervision. New environments, unfamiliar equipment and changing of tasks can be especially challenging.

VirtuAssist provides real-time guidance to operate working equipment so people can work with minimal supervision in these challenging environments. VirtuAssist combines cutting-edge technologies such as computer vision, pointing gesture recognition, machine learning and task modelling with smart-glasses. This personalises information and interaction to the end-user’s needs and preferences in a fun and effective way. 

Through the smart-glass camera, the system recognises the equipment in front of the user (e.g. a printer). Then, through the smart-glass, VirtuAssist describes the equipment and provides operating instructions. A set of pre-recorded tasks are available to guide the end-user, step by step, in each action.

This reduces the amount of supervision and support required for those with learning difficulties or memory problems thereby increasing their employability by decreasing overheads for the employer.

VirtuAssist improves the independence of end-users, increases their competence and confidence, and ultimately enhances their life and career opportunities. In addition, the VirtuAssist smart-glasses are fun, stylish and unobtrusive in comparison with many other wearable assistive technologies.

VirtuAssist is being developed with funding from the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the UK’s innovation agency, the Technology Strategy Board under the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI). The SBRI programme encourages technology solutions to specific public sector needs.

A total of £500,000 funding has been awarded to eight innovative projects that will make a real difference to people with disabilities. This funding is going to be divided into two different competitions, and there are four successful bids for each of them managed by Jisc TechDis.

The competitions are:
– ‘Ready steady STEM’: for opening up access to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects for disabled learners.
– ‘Good to go’: for increasing independence in unfamiliar or challenging environments by giving people easy access to the information they need when they need it.

VirtuAssist is one of the four projects inside the ‘Good to go’ competition.

For more information about the competition and the other successful companies, visit: www.jisctechdis.ac.uk/sbri

**This text was prepared by Jesica Rivero Espinosa

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