Discoveries and Breakthroughs Inside Science




Computer Science

Earth Science









Sign-up for FTK Bulletin

Computer Science

Pimp My Program: Help for the Disabled

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- You've heard of "Pimp My Ride" where they customize a car to meet the exact needs of the driver. Researchers have taken that same idea and applied it to various computer programs, creating an interface that can speed up computing no matter what your ability.

You need Flash Player 8 or higher to view video content with the ROO Flash Player. Click here to download and install it.

Kevin Berg was born with cerebral palsy, but that hasn't stopped him from a career in computer science. His wife Melinda helps with the hardware.

"I literally live on computers 20 hours a day," Kevin of Compupane LLC, told Ivanhoe.

But getting the mouse to go exactly where he wants it to go can be frustrating. That's because most computer interfaces are designed for the average user. Computer scientists have created a new program called Supple that customizes applications to all types of abilities.

"Supple is trying to build a model of how well a person can control the mouse for different basic activities," Krzysztof Gajos, Ph.D., a computer scientist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., explained to Ivanhoe.

It starts with a diagnostic test to collect information on how a person performs basic tasks like pointing, dragging, clicking and list selection.

"The system is trying to build a model of all those things and then try to generate user interfaces that really play to a person's strengths," Dr. Gajos said.

The result is a custom designed layout. For the average user, Supple would design a layout that sacrifices aesthetics for speed. For someone with muscular dystrophy, the layout would be tightly packed with smaller fonts to deal with slow but accurate movements. To deal with Berg's cerebral palsy, the layout is larger and full of buttons to work with his rapid but inaccurate movements.

"It makes me about three-times faster to use the mouse," Berg said.

It's a new technology that's changing the software to meet the needs of users, instead of the other way around.

Supple's creators hope to make the programs available for web-based programs in the next two years. The long-term goal is to make the adaptive technology available on all operating systems.

The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.

Click here to Go Inside This Science or contact:

Krzysztof Gajos
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Lois Smith
Human Factors and Ergonomics Society
Santa Monica, CA 90406
(310) 394-1811

This Month's TV Reports
Farming for Fuel

Each year America uses 180 billion gallons of oil to fuel our cars and trucks. Farmers may have the answer to the problem by turning their waste into fuel.


Prosthetics That Grow

An implant grows as children with bone cancer grow. It’s saving their limbs without surgery.


Doppler Radar Tracking Babies

SIDS -- it’s the number one cause of death before age one. Now a new baby monitor may keep a watchful eye on little ones as they sleep.


Autism: Diagnosing Brothers & Sisters

One in 20 children are diagnosed with autism. Now a new test helps reveal if their siblings will get it.


Diagnosis: Brain Injury

A new test reveals brain damage when other tests fail.


Global Warming Causes Kidney Stones

Where you live could cause kidney stones. Do you live in the Kidney Stone Belt of America?


Dolphins, Bats & Scientists Help The Blind

Scientists are looking to nature to help the blind. A new device can help the visually impaired detect objects in their way through sound, not sight.


Pimp My Program: Help for the Disabled

Just like you can customize your car … now a new computer program can customize your PC.


Fountain of Youth for Your Brain

Research shows that once we turn 25, our brains slow production of chemicals linked to memory. Now there’s a new supplement that helps keep your memory sharp.


Pill to Beat Aging

An anti-frailty pill helps seniors stay healthy, longer.


Finding Lost Hikers

Each year more than 2,000 people get lost on hikes. New methods in math are helping rescuers find them faster.


Dig It! The Secrets of Soil

It’s a science destination with a dirty little secret! We take you inside an exhibit aimed to change the way you think about dirt.


Prior Reports
A joint production of Ivanhoe Broadcast News and the American Institute of Physics.
  Ivanhoe Broadcast News
2745 West Fairbanks Avenue
Winter Park, Florida 32789
(407) 740-0789

American Institute of Physics
One Physics Ellipse
College Park, MD 19740-3843
(301) 209-3100
  P.O. Box 865
Orlando, Florida 32802
  © 2009 Ivanhoe Broadcast News, Inc.