ATU419 – Conclusion, Think and Zoom with Zuby Onwuta

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Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

Show Notes: Zuby Onwuta – Founder and CEO of Think and Zoom www.thinkandzoom.comwww.zubyonwuta.com Facebook, Twitter and YouTube: @thinkandzoom, @zubyonwuta Indiana AT Champion Award: http://bit.ly/2QsCQCm Jake’s Place Story: http://bit.ly/2QwUmVP Australian Smart Home Story: http://bit.ly/2QsFxUo


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ZUBY ONWUTA:  This is Zuby Onwuta, and I’m the inventor, founder, and CEO of Think and Zoom, control solution for the blind, and this is your Assistive Technology Update.

JOSH ANDERSON:  Hello and welcome to your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up-to-date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist individuals with disabilities and special needs.  I’m your host, Josh Anderson, with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana.  Welcome to episode 419 of Assistive Technology Update.  It’s scheduled to be released on June 7, 2019.

On today’s show, we have the conclusion of our interview with Zuby Onwuta.  As you may remember last week, he came on the show and talk a little bit about his background, how he had struggled with vision loss, all the different things that have happened to them that had led him to end up developing think and zoom.  On today’s show, we will actually get into think and zoom, what it is, how it can help, and some of the other great things that he has coming down the pipeline.  We will also give a shout out to Danny Wayne Beamer for winning the Indiana Assistive Technology Champion award.  We will have a story about an accessible playground in New Jersey as well as a smart home in Australia being used to assist individuals with cognitive impairments.

Don’t forget, if you ever have questions or suggestions for individuals we should have on the show, you can always reach out to us at tech@eastersealscrossroads.org.  Give us a call on our listener line at 317-721-7124. Or shoot us a note on Twitter at a dinner project.

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Here at INDATA, every year, we give out the Indiana Assistive Technology Champion award.  I’m very happy to congratulate Danny Wayne Beamer for being the recipient of that award this year.  Danny is the assistant Executive Director in low vision program management at the Wabash independent living and learning center in Terre Haute, Indiana.  He is also a very well-known radio host and personality, a great friend of Assistive Technology Update, Easter Seals Crossroads, and INDATA Project in general. Danny was my very first interview when I sat in for Wade in a guest hosting way.  I must admit that he really helped me get rid of some of those nerves. I don’t think I could ever thank Danny enough for his assistance in that.  He also will reach out and give pointers on the podcast as well because, as I said, he is a broadcaster and has been doing it for quite a while.  So again, congratulations to Danny Wayne Beamer for winning the Indiana Assistive Technology Champion award.  I cannot think of a nicer, more well deserving individual.

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Here we are getting closer to the beginning of summer.  The kids are out of school, the weather is getting nice, the sun is shining.  We all kind of want to get outside.  One of the greatest places to go as a kid is to the playground.  Go to the park and ride on the swings and the slight and anything else.  But these things aren’t always accessible to individuals with disabilities.  They can pose a lot of challenges, not just for folks with mobility challenges but also for individuals with some cognitive impairment or maybe behavioral issues.

I found a story at the Burlington Country Times, and it’s called, “All-inclusive Jake’s Place in Delran to open in July.”  It talks about a new park that’s going to be opening in New Jersey, and the playground is all-inclusive.  I did not realize this, but it actually says here that the governor, Phil Murray of New Jersey, signed a bill called Jake’s Law in August that requires every county in New Jersey to have an all-inclusive playground and it.  Really cool.  It does say that the playground here has a synthetic surface, wide ramps, bridges, balance beams, stepping circles made for kids to work on their coordination, help out with balance skills, swings that have molded bucket seats, play equipment with Braille on it to let kids know what it is, and also de-escalation areas for children with autism or other behavioral issues.

We will put a link in our show notes.  Very cool to think that places are really thinking to include kids with disabilities in outdoor play, and kudos to New Jersey to make sure that every kid in every town has a place to go outside and play.

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Over the past few months, we’ve had a lot of guest on with different devices and ideas and things to help individuals who perhaps live in group homes and maybe some different ways to use technology to assist them.  I found an interesting article over at CIO from IDG out in Australia, written by George Nott.  It’s called, “Smart home for people with intellectual disabilities to open next month.” It says this home is run by Australia’s third largest private hospital operator which is St. John of God Healthcare, and it’s going to feature wearables, smart phone apps, voice assistants, sensors, and artificial intelligence to help with five residents who live in this home.  It is all of them have cognitive issues and secondary conditions such as epilepsy, CP, blindness and these kinds of things.  

But what I like about this is it talks about it can be tailored to each individual.  If one person has a problem with elopement, then the door lock will know that they are the one trying to leave, and will stay lock and not let them out.  Or maybe it will let them out front but not out of the actual date and into the road where they could possibly be hurt.  But if someone else comes to the door that doesn’t have this problem with elopement, we need to go out and go to work or out in the community, the door will unlock for them so they don’t have to worry about trying to use a key or trying to feel locked in or anything like that.  It says there are smart assistance in the home, so they are using Amazon Alexa in order to increase lighting, oral appliance, turn on calling music in the mornings.  But it also says there are tablets around that will display what’s for dinner, which caregivers are going to be there, or what the plan is for the day.  This can really help individuals with anxiety.  If I don’t know what’s going on today, if I don’t know what I’m having for dinner, I can upset about these and worry about them. Having that information readily available, and probably easily changed for the caregivers, can get rid of some of that anxiety.

It talks about some different folks that live in this home and some different things they need. Some of them will need to be woken up, and unless their caregiver wakes them up, they will just stay in bed all day. Other ones might need to be reminded to go to the bathroom, so they can be all kinds of problems from that.  This technology can allow them to be reminded to do these things with the wearables, the tablets, smart assistants, really any of those or combination of them can be used to help these individuals really be independent.  They wouldn’t have to have the caregiver do this kind of work for them or watch over them in the same way that they had to in the past.  This technology can really help them with that independence.

We will go ahead and put a link in the show notes to this story, but again, it fits with some of the interviews we had, I believe last month, with some individuals building some things to try to help folks in assisted living and group homes, maybe live a little bit more independently not have to rely on others to do things for them and rely on technology to do some of that work instead.

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As you folks know, we ran a little short on time last week and were not able to finish our interview with Zuby, so we are going to go ahead and start the interview right back up where we left off last week.  Take it away, Zuby.

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ZUBY ONWUTA:  At some point, I had to leave engineering. That’s when I bailed to dip into think and zoom.  Remember, back when I was struggling to see the eye screen to get my drivers license, since then, it was like a background process in my mind.  Even when I was at work, I would have to get extra magnification software to load up on my laptop.  I’m thinking about it when I’m using screen readers, I’m thinking about it like, there has to be an easier way.  The three barriers is that compared to a sighted person, you give a sighted person a business card, they will look at it, two seconds, they see your name, email address, phone number, and on top of that they are holding the card in front of their face and looking at you at the same time.  Now they have four pieces of information into a half seconds, your face, your name, your email at, and your phone number.  And it is registered.  You give someone like me a business card, first thing I’m going to do is I’m going to look for assistive technology to help me consume that content. The second thing is I need to learn the commands to use the assistive technology.  That’s extra stuff sighted people don’t have to do.  The third thing is I need to manually operate it.  That’s three barriers that sighted people don’t have to deal with.  No wonder there is a 70 percent unemployment rate affecting blind Americans and a 90 percent illiteracy rate affecting blind folks all around the world.  

This was what I wanted to tackle These three things.  So I said, rather than this manual operation, can we just have it hands-free?  I don’t want to ever use my hands [INAUDIBLE] but it’s not my thing to tap. No, let’s get away from that.  That’s be done with that.  That’s get away.  The second thing is, why do I have to learn this extra command?  Have you ever tried to use a screen reader?  You have to use two fingers from your left hand and two fingers from your right hand to issue a command.

JOSH ANDERSON:  And tons of keystrokes, and some of them aren’t intuitive.  It can take forever to learn the stuff.

ZUBY ONWUTA:  My counterparts already done, they are at lunch, and I’m still keystroking.  So I said, I want automated commands.  I don’t want to have to learn anything else.  Just automate these commands.  [INAUDIBLE] but the first two, how can I bring about a greater user experience to use the assistive technology [INAUDIBLE] improve productivity and increase functionality.  That’s what led me down the path of brain control.  So the goal wasn’t brain control for brain control’s sake.  The goal was to achieve hands-free, no learning of extra commands, and the way I found to do that was using brain control. For me, it made sense based on my premed background and science and engineering training, because at the roots of our thoughts, emotions, and everything that makes us are these neurons. There are billions of them in our brain. Our brains are not solid, inside it’s like soup.  There are biochemical activity going on.  All of these things, masses of neurons connecting to each other, and they connect via political impulses.  All of those things going on give rise to brain waves.  They are just like radio waves, you can turn on your radio and a cup the signal.  Now something called electroencephalography, EEG, like an EKG.  

EEG started in 1924 when the machines were as big as a house, back in the days of early computing. EEG allows us to gather brain waves. The study if it started back in 1924, but in the last decade there are now these companies that have started miniaturizing and breaking out mobile EEG brainwave reading headsets.  So to me, it made sense, I want something to ask my brain, Hey Zuby, are you struggling to see?  And my brain will tell it yes, I’m struggling, just help me out.  And then that thing was say okay, I’ve got your back and it responds.  Those are the simple steps that led to think and zoom.  Now when you are wearing this brainwave reader the think in some software acts like a glue.  It communicates with the brainwave reader and gets your brain waves.  The brainwave reader it doesn’t go into your brain to add data, no.  It reads the data that is already there.  It’s similar to a temperature – I know you want to find out what your temperature is, you use a thermometer.  It tells you, it doesn’t alter your temperature.  It tells you what it is.  This brainwave sensor just tells you.  Now it’s less for the developer to write applications against it.  The think and zoom software talks with the brainwave reader and says hey, struggling to see?  If the answer is yes, okay, I’ll help you.  Now additionally it talks to the assistive technology and performs magnification or text to audio, text to speech screen reading.  So it’s a template.

Currently we have prototypes that run on the smart glass, prototypes that run on smart phones, and then we have another prototype that fuses everything together.  The brainwave reader, coupled with a VR headset and a smart phone to really, truly achieve hands-free brain control for one assistive technology.  That’s think and zoom.

JOSH ANDERSON:  That’s amazing.  So you are saying that the brainwave reader can actually connect to all of these different devices and, maybe in the future, as you said, screen readers and other devices in order to make it to where you can control all that just by thinking about it?

ZUBY ONWUTA:  Yes, sir.  Being an engineer, I guess, gave me the advantage to look at it as a template. That’s why I described it that way. I described it as the goal was look at assistive tech, remove the extra commands and remove the manual operation. The result is the brain control, hands-free, automated commands.  If you look at as templates, then you know have identified the building blocks.  One building block is brainwave reader. Another building block is software to talk to the brainwave reader.  And then another building block is your assistive device to receive information from the software.  Irrespective of what your end device or assistive tech is, the building blocks are still going to be the same.  The software in the middle will be talking to your brainwave reader which is talking to your brain, and they will be communicating happily.  The results will be manifested or showcased in the assistive technology, depending on the situation.  If you are struggling to see, it will manifest by zooming.  And in the future, looking at more control, it will start reading, stop reading, pause, go back and forth.  Right now we are still at preliminary stages.

JOSH ANDERSON:  I could see how that could be helpful, especially in situations when you are out in the world, even the McDonald’s.  If I’m talking to someone right next to me, I probably don’t need to be zoomed in, but if I’m looking up and being able to see that men you got it would be nice if I could just think that I need some magnification and suddenly I can actually see it.  I could see how that could have huge implications out in the world and the workplace and school, really everywhere.

ZUBY ONWUTA:  Yes, you couldn’t have said it any better. Exactly that McDonald’s example. For my sighted counterparts, when they appear at the counter, they can look up and see the menu.  And when they look at the cashier that’s much closer to them, all they have to do is look at the cashier.  They are not adjusting anything.  But their brain is working with their eyes to do all that automatically. So that’s the premise, the background for think and zoom, to get the visually impaired person as close as possible to the sighted counterpart so they can function more, produce more, and compete in this fast and dynamic working force.  So they can climb out of this unemployment and lack of economic independence that we find ourselves in.

JOSH ANDERSON:  Let’s say our listeners want to find out more about think and zoom.  Where could they go to find out more?

ZUBY ONWUTA:  There are a couple of websites.  You can go to www.thinkandzoom.com.  You can also go to my personal website, www.ZubyOnwuta.com. We are also very active on social media. You can look at @ThinkandZoom or @ZubyOnwuta.  Our channels include Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. Especially YouTube can you can find our TedX talks revolving around disability and innovation and how to help alleviate some of the suffering that the disabled face, as well as promoting other phenomenal disabled innovators all around the world.

JOSH ANDERSON:  And I you guys are working on giving a little bit more features and things like that.  You don’t seem like the kind of person who only looks at tomorrow or next week. What is your goal in the long run? If you could have a crystal ball, in 10 years, what would think and zoom be able to do?

ZUBY ONWUTA:  Think and zoom would be able to enhance the disabled and entertain the able to.  This is what I mean by that.  Folks with a disability, it means that they have a hurdle to overcome.  They rely on assistive technology to cope with everyday tasks.  Not for the fraction of the day, not for half of the day, but throughout the day, for everyday tasks, something like think and zoom can bring about that greater user experience and improve productivity and enhance functionality to be able to do more and enjoy the day, whether you are at home, at work, you can produce more, whether at school, you can learn without barriers of assistive technology. But at the same time, there are other people who simply want to be entertained, a.k.a., people playing games. So think and zoom can be sort of that six finger that gives them superpowers and can give them the ability to have reflexive gaming or immersive gaming.  

Here’s an example. Let’s say you and I are playing Karate Kid, two characters just doing karate.  Today, each of us will have to hold a controller.  The controller has many buttons.  We will have to learn the sequence of buttons to throw a punch, duck a punch, do a roundhouse kick.  What if we were able to have our hands-free, and rather than pressing buttons, we are using our brain waves?  We are not using our hands, we are using our thoughts.  All of a sudden, your thought is now driving your digital avatar, your digital character.  So it now becomes reflexive.  So if someone throws a punch, your reflexes will duck.  That’s not your fingers pressing on the controller, rather your human character will duck and your avatar will duck. And then it also offers immersion, because you are now fully immersed in your game.  There is nothing between you and the game.  There is no controller.  Even though the gamers practice for hours – and they are very good at it – but your brain waves are electrical impulses.  It’s even faster.  Now you can fully immerse yourself in your game and really have fun.

Why I stated it like that is assistive tech, everyday use, every waking hour; gaming, not so much. However, the same technology can enhance the disabled and entertain the able to.  And then of course there are other aspects and applications like defense, the military.  If you ever seen a pilot in the F-35, one of those where it’s a single occupant plane, a single pilot in the cockpit.  And then there are all these tons of buttons and the pilot has to use the steering wheel – I’m sorry, I’m not familiar with aviation.  The thing that controls the plane to dive left and right.

JOSH ANDERSON:  I know what you’re talking about, but unfortunately, I don’t know the right name either.

ZUBY ONWUTA:  But imagine that he’s using his mind to control this.  It’s so reflexive.  If you want to spin to the left, you just nod your head a little to the left, a little to the right, move up.  Again, you are reflexive and you are not immersed in it.  Those microseconds and that particular situation is lifesaving. For the disabled, is to produce one function, but for defense it is lifesaving.  These are the other applications that this could play in the future.

JOSH ANDERSON:  I could see how talking about videogames and things, how that could help individuals with mobility challenges. Maybe there is no cognitive impairment, the brain works just fine.  It is getting those impulses to the fingers, the hands, and the other part of the body. But if they could just sit there and think it into it, they could play games just as well or better than any able-bodied individual.

ZUBY ONWUTA:  You couldn’t have said it any better. Somebody in a wheelchair, hands, you have to use your hands to move the wheel or use your hands to press the electrical motor to move it.  Why couldn’t you just fold your hands like Professor X in the X-Men?  We could do that.  And then also to play game.  Or there are people with things like motor neuron impairment or stroke victims, Parkinson’s, ALS, often dealing with hands shaking and tremors, something as simple as picking up the remote control and changing the TV channel is such a huge task. Why can’t we offer them the ability to just think channel 46 and go to their favorite news channel?

JOSH ANDERSON:  I feel like the applications could be – the sky is the limit, I guess.  Whatever you could think of, it will be able to do.

ZUBY ONWUTA: Absolutely.

JOSH ANDERSON:  That is awesome.  Thank you so much for coming on the show today and talk about yourself, your journey, and all about think and zoom and the technology behind that.

ZUBY ONWUTA:  Thank you so much for having me.  It was a great pleasure.

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JOSH ANDERSON:  Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? If you do, call our listener line at 317-721-7124, shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject, or check us out on Facebook. Are you looking for a transcript or show notes? Head on over to our website at  www.EasterSealsTech.com. Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. For more shows like this, plus so much more, head over to AccessibilityChannel.com. The views expressed by our guests are not necessarily that of this host or the INDATA Project.  This has been your Assistive Technology Update.  I’m Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana. Thank you for listening, and we’ll see you next time.

***Transcript provided by TJ Cortopassi.  For requests and inquiries, contact tjcortopassi@gmail.com***