Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on the Advancement of Cognitive Technologies [RERC-ACT]

RERC-ACT Website

A major investment of the Coleman Institute has been in the co-funding of two federal government center grants from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR). In 2004, NIDRR initiated funding for the nation's first Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center for the Advancement of Cognitive Technologies (RERC-ACT). In a peer reviewed national competition, the University of Colorado succeeded in securing the Center. In 2009, the grant was re-competed. Once again, the University of Colorado succeeded. The combined federal grants exceed $9 million and the combined commitment by the Coleman Institute for RERC-ACT I (2004-2009) and RERC-ACT II (2009-2014) was over $1.6 million. Cathy Bodine, Associate Professor, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the Anschutz Medical Center, continues to serve as principal investigator.

The RERC-ACT I incorporated 13 separate projects on the UCB, UCCS, and UCD and Anschutz medical campuses in nine different academic units. Research partners from four other research universities in Illinois, California, Michigan and Kansas also participated. Other collaborators include the Institute for Matching Persons and Technology, Inc., AbleLink Technologies, Inc., AT Sciences, LLC, and CaringFamily. Projects fell into five categories: needs assessment projects; community living and technology; health, family support and technology; education, employment and technology; and technology standards development.

RERC-ACT II builds on past successes and introduces new elements of research and development of cognitive technologies across the life span. Efforts are focused in three main areas: creating a product usability testing facility to focus rigorous industry-standard product testing protocols on cognitive assistive technology, developing a core software/sensor platform to support mobile animated agents used for multiple applications, and developing infrastructure standards, long considered an important missing link for information technology access by people with cognitive disabilities.

From non-linear job coaching to Socially Assistive Robots, the projects are challenging, creative and show great promise in improving quality of life for people with cognitive disabilities, their families and their caregivers.

A short description of each of the projects follows.

Product Testing Laboratory (R1)

Principal Investigator: Greg McGrew

R1a. Systematic Evaluation of Commercially Available AT Devices: the design of protocols for evaluations of high-fidelity AT

The Product Testing Laboratory (PTL) is a usability and usage lab designed to test existing, emerging, & new technologies engineered for and used by individuals with cognitive disabilities and to generate meaningful, comprehensive data on the usability, effectiveness, and product life capacity.

R1b. Iterative Product Design Testing by Using Participatory Action Research (PAR) Methods with Persons with Cognitive Disabilities

For each of our Development Projects, a similar iterative process will be undertaken. Developmental product usability testing will be conducted during development of each of the products under this grant. Testing will be done by people with cognitive disabilities. Based on this, measurable performance goals will be established and usability metrics will be drawn up and employed for data analysis after testing is completed

R1c. Longitudinal and large-scale clinical trial with persons with CDs to determine factors that influence their use or non-use of AT

There are many questions that are not addressed related to the abandonment, adherence, and retention of assistive devices used by persons with cognitive disabilities. To properly address these issues investigators will conduct a randomized prospective longitudinal trial with a large numbers of device users. This study will attempt to further develop and test the model of AT use/non-use developed for individuals with cognitive disabilities.

Non-Linear Context-Aware Prompting System (N-CAPS) for Persons with Cognitive Disabilities: a 12 month pilot feasibility study (R2)

Principal Investigator: Patricia Heyn, Jim Sandstrum:
This project investigates the feasibility of implementing a technology system in the workplace that uses Context Aware Prompting System (CAPS) to act as a job coach/training aid for adults with cognitive disabilities.

Effects of a Mobile-Based Skill Building Coaching Technology Intervention for People with Cognitive Disabilities: a 6-month randomized controlled-pilot feasibility study (R3)

Principal Investigator: Jim Sandstrum
This project is a 6-month randomized controlled feasibility study to investigate the effects of a "Mobile-Based Skills Build Coach Technology (aka as "Mobile Coach") on a sample of employed adults with cognitive disabilities by comparing selective outcomes of work performance, work satisfaction, self-efficacy, length of stay in the job, and wellbeing to the non-mobile coach device group(control).

Cognitive Decline, Work and Technological Interruptions (R4)

Principal Investigator: Andrew Sears
This project focuses on the effect of age-related declines in cognitive function on an individual's ability to recover from interruptions while completing information technology based tasks. The primary objective is to understand how these individuals deal with and recover from interruptions (e.g., phone calls, visitors, incoming email). As strategies are identified, tools to support the interruption recovery process will be designed and evaluated.

Theory and Simulation-based Vocabulary Development for Employment: An Analysis of the Word Maturity Method for Adult Workers with Mild Cognitive Impairments (R5)

Principal Investigator: Tom Landauer, Clayton Lewis
This project investigates the learner's (research participant) vocabulary development which will be assessed in terms of the material to which they have been exposed (learning new vocabulary). The technique uses " test and teach" close items that can be used both to assess the learner's understanding of a target vocabulary word, and to give the learner information about what the word actually means. (A cloze item is a sentence with a blank; the student is asked to choose a word that best fills the blank.)

This approach applies the research-based principles and methods for classroom teaching currently advocated for vocabulary testing and teaching. By using the Word Maturity Method (WM) we will investigate two workplace samples on vocabulary development which will be assessed in terms of the material to which they have been exposed (learning new vocabulary).

Early Developmental Skills Acquisition and Socially Assistive Robotics (SARS): A Pilot Investigation of Effectiveness (R6)

Principal Investigator: Jim Sandstrum
Young children with major delays in early development require intensive intervention to reach key developmental milestones. To assist with this issue, we will investigate commercially available robots and adapt their design to a Socially Assistive Robotics (SARs) category integrating techniques from the field of Human Robotics Interaction (HRI). The robots will be adapted by RERC-ACT engineers and clinicians from commercially available, off-the-shelf toys paired with advanced sensor technology and controls systems (Socially Assistive Robotics) to facilitate early developmental milestones in children with significant delays in the areas of communication and movement.

Development of Uniform Standards for Cognitive Technologies (D1)

Principal Investigator: Peter Axelson
The main goal of this project is build on technologies under development in international projects that address accessibility including Fluid, AEGIS, and the Raising the Floor initiative. This will enable a user with a cognitive disability to receive a presentation of a website tailored to their needs, with key information highlighted, and less important information moved to a backup screen. By including this provision in the OpenID definition, support for users with cognitive disabilities can spread more readily across the Web.

Interactive Animated Agents Platform Development for Cognitive Technologies at Home, School, Work and Community (IAAP) (D2)

Principal Investigator: Sarel van Vuuren
This project will focus on the development of a platform that can be used interchangeably with a number of highly relevant and highly sought after context-aware support technology projects within the RERC-ACT. Projects will explore the use of a socially interactive animated agent for assistance in the context of either soft or procedural skills.

Non-Linear Context-Aware Prompting System (N-CAPS) for Adults with Cognitive Disabilities in the Workplace (D3)

Principal Investigator: Mike Melonis
This project integrates non-linear prompting, animated agents, context-aware sensors, batteryless power sources for sensors, automated video recognition, and complex mathematical modeling to create a solution intended to assist people with cognitive disabilities to succeed in the workplace.

Mobile Coach for Vocational Application (D4)

Principal Investigator: Clayton Lewis, Mike Melonis
This project builds on the basic platform developed in D2, (IAAP) and the Non-linear Prompting System built on the N-CAPS platform in D3, (N-CAPS). Specifically this project focuses on two key coaching challenges: coaching for workers who move around the workplace in the course of their jobs, such as custodial and grounds keeping staff; and it supports the "soft skills", the interpersonal skills that are so critical in many employment settings.

The Socially Interactive Early Childhood Robotics (SAR) Project (D5)

Principal Investigator: Jim Sandstrum
There are many robotic toys and sensors currently available which are both effective and appropriate for our purposes such as, RoboBuilder, Lynxmotion, Spykee from Erector, Lego MindStorm, and Rovio Mobile Webcam. This project utilizes 1) off-the-shelf robotics kits paired with 2) advanced sensor technology, 3) control systems (Socially Assistive Robotics - SAR), and 4) improved human to robotic interfaces to facilitate early developmental milestones in children with significant delays in the areas of cognition, communication and movement.

The potential robotic toys identified fall into the Socially Assistive category which encompasses techniques developed in the field of Human Robotics Interaction (HRI). The main goal of this project is to design a prototype of a mini-tablet that will be used as the 'button' or HRI mechanism for two-way communication. The combination of the HRI and an array of commercially available sensors will facilitate elicitation of the targeted developmental milestones.

Inclusive Collaboration Technology for Employment and Participation (D6)

Principal Investigator: Clayton Lewis
Our aim is to shape ICT collaboration tools to give adults with cognitive disabilities the same ability to effectively participate in group discussions as people without disabilities.