In 2000, Lindy Ruble suffered a stroke. She survived, but was left unable to recognize text, which made using a PC keyboard -- and most Internet-based forms of communications -- impossible.
But a clever tech hack by her son has allowed her to start sending emails once again.
Chad Ruble made it all possible by digging into Microsoft's Kinect motion sensor peripheral. He created a visual dashboard with nine different emoticons, which Lindy can utilize to send basic emails to friends and family to let them know how she's feeling and to what degree (i.e. very, very happy or somewhat sleepy).
The hack not only lets his mother communicate with family members without having to pick up the phone, it raises online awareness about the disorder she suffers from post-stroke. It's called aphasia, and it affects language processing but not intelligence. Roughly one million people are affected by the disorder in the U.S.
On his blog, Chad notes that he plans to add other icons in the future to add a greater amount of variety to his mother's communications, though he recognizes the need for the interface to remain very simple.
"The 'path' from the icon to the send button also needs to be clear," he says. "Mom too easily changes the message as she makes her way to the send button. The next version will have wider channels between emotions to avoid inadvertent selection. It would also be fun to snap and attach a jpeg from the RGB Kinect camera to the email. Still, its clear that mom is happy with the result."
While the Kinect-powered email program Chad created is certainly a step towards further independence for his mother, it's not all the way there yet. Since the hack is PC based, someone has to launch it for her.
Still, as he notes, "this was a fun start." And a touching one, we might add.