Paul is incredibly passionate, with a genuine desire to help others through his research, which focuses on improving the quality of life for those with disabilities - something he has first-hand experience of. He is in the second year of his PhD, having already received a First Class (Honours) degree in Computing from BU.
His doctoral study, entitled: Evaluating new and future pervasive computing technologies to enhance Human Computer Interaction for a SmartPowerchair through a framework and design solutions follows logically on from his undergraduate degree, when he developed what’s known as SmartATRS.
An Automated Transport and Retrieval System (ATRS) enables a powerchair to autonomously dock onto a platform lift without the need of an assistant. The technically-advanced system uses robotics and Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology to dock the powerchair into the lift fitted to the rear of a standard multi-purpose vehicle while the disabled driver is in the driver’s seat. Paul’s work enhanced ATRS, replacing the wireless keyfobs usually used to operate the system with a smartphone.
“I use ATRS to transport my powered wheelchair and I found the small keyfobs (similar to those used for electric gates) that control the system difficult to use due to the small buttons,” Paul explains.
“SmartATRS enables the lift, seat and tailgate to be controlled from a smartphone instead of from the small keyfobs. The results of a usability evaluation showed that SmartATRS significantly improved the usability of ATRS,” he enthuses.
After having such success with his degree project, Paul was hungry to continue his work finding innovative ways of using technology to benefit people with disabilities. This time, his focus is on the SmartPowerchair, a device with the potential to give a wide range of people greater independence. Paul was keen to make sure his work focused on helping people with the most difficult household tasks.
“I wanted to ensure the SmartPowerchair has a similar effect on independence as SmartATRS, so I conducted a requirements elicitation survey targeting powerchair users,” he reveals. The results highlighted opening/closing curtains and windows as the most difficult tasks, while also showing that an integrated smartphone operated either by touch or head tracking was likely to be the best way to improve accessibility.
This has given Paul the starting point for his doctoral research and he plans to conduct further studies as his project progresses to evaluate the suitability of the technologies he implements.
From the experience of my own disability, my vision is to develop a SmartPowerchair that will evolve beyond a standard powerchair to solve accessibility problems for both myself and others with similar disabilities,” he states.
So far, Paul has worked closely with industrial partners and the local community of people with disabilities to drive his research forwards. “Collaboration has been initiated between Bournemouth University and Dynamic Controls - a global supplier of control systems for powerchairs - to derive stakeholder requirements for the SmartPowerchair,” he tells us, adding that he has also visited the Victoria Education Centre - a special educational needs school in Poole - to conduct interviews and find participants for future experiments with his technology.
“Once the technologies have been successfully integrated into the powerchair, it is anticipated that my research will impact the lifestyles of people with disabilities by assisting in everyday life.”
Paul happily acknowledges the support he has received along the way, from both his doctoral supervisory team and elsewhere at BU. “I have received excellent support from my supervisors, Dr Huseyin Dogan and Professor Keith Phalp,” he says. “I meet with Huseyin weekly to discuss my progress and to receive constructive feedback. This contact ensures that my research is constantly monitored against my aims and objectives.”
He is also full of praise for Bournemouth University’s Additional Learning Support department, who he says “have provided me with brilliant Learning Support Assistants (LSAs) who assist with typing and notetaking”.
Paul has also found the Graduate School incredibly useful, particularly their annual Postgraduate Research Conference. He reveals that he presented a poster describing his research findings at the conference, winning first prize. “The conference was an opportunity to discuss my work with fellow postgraduates and academics. [...] It was very good experience and preparation for me,” he comments.
As well as presenting at this BU event, Paul has since attended and presented papers at two international conferences, one in Angers, France, and the other in Daventry, UK. He received Doctoral Study Funding from the Faculty of Science & Technology, which allowed him to travel to the 5th International Conference on Pervasive and Embedded Computing and Communication Systems in Angers, as well as to the 2015 Ergonomics and Human Factors Conference in Daventry. On both trips, he was accompanied by his LSA and carer.
Paul aims to complete his doctorate within three years but is keeping his options open when he graduates. “I would like to either continue my studies with a Postdoctoral Fellowship or search for employment opportunities,” he says. “I’d be interested in research and development industries that would utilise the skills I have obtained during my university education,” he concludes.