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Tobii Dynavox and Advantech Deliver a Cutting-edge AAC Product


Author │Aileen Huang
Images│Tobii Dynaox
Interviewee│Anders Malnes Mathisen - Product Manager/ Tobii Dynavox,  Gracegs.Lin - Product Manager / SIoT Mobile Computing Services

To better serve people who suffer from ALS, cerebral palsy, autism, Rett syndrome, or speech disorders caused by injury or illness, Tobii Dynavox and Advantech co-created the next generation I-Series AAC Device that stands out from competition.

We communicate in so many ways these days and with the help of technology, we not only communicate, but also connect and interact with others through social media, apps, online games and more. However, for people who suffer from ALS, cerebral palsy, autism, Rett syndrome, or speech disorders caused by injury or illness, communication doesn’t come naturally, not to mention use of technology. To better serve physically challenged people, Tobii Dynavox, the global leader of eye tracking enabled and touch-based AAC devices, and Advantech co-created the next generation I-Series Augmented and Alternative Communication (AAC) Device that stands out from competition.

Eye tracking used in Tobii Dynavox’s AAC devices is a sensor technology that enables a computer or machine to determine what the user is looking at – the gaze point, which revolutionized assistive technologies. Eye tracking can be relevant for many other type of Healthcare products such as bedside terminals, nurse stations, diagnostic image equipment, hospital information kiosks and surgery robots.

With help from eye tracking technology enabled AAC Devices, a basketball coach who suffers from ALS, can use eyes to control the device and generate synthetic voice orders to coach children; a civil engineer who is paralyzed from the neck down due to a tragic accident can work and live an independent life; and a 5-year old girl with Rett syndrome can express her feelings and build relationship with her family. AAC devices has truly become their voices, as well as a means to be better engaged with society to live a better and more rewarding life.

Tobii Eye Tracking Technology Enables AAC devices

AAC devices can be as simple as symbol cards, or as advanced as communication boards and speech generating devices (SGD). For over thirty years, Tobii Dynavox has been helping people with special needs to live a free and independent life. They integrated and digitized several important AAC methods into their software and devices. By using Tobii Dynavox’s eye trackers and software tools, users can access the internet, social media, e-mails, and messaging apps, just the same as everyone else does. Tobii Dynavox also provides software for education, training, literacy learning, and more to meet the specific needs of different types of disabilities. However, for people who have medical complications and multiple disabilities, consumer mobile devices are not suitable for their needs. As Tobii Dynavox’s slogan says, "Power to Be You", which means to offer solutions that allow users to express themselves easily, control electronic products in their own home, as well as explore the world and their potential. So, a dedicated tablet that is not only rugged but also slim and light-weight was a must.

Tobii Dynavox President, Fredrik Ruben

Although I-Series products have helped many physically challenged people, Tobii Dynavox’s enthusiasm for improving and helping didn’t stop there. In 2017, they started sourcing for new generation I-Series products. Being in a very niche market and serving unique users, Tobii Dynavox’s criteria for a co-creation partner were very clear—stability, quality, and long-term service. Mr. Anders Malnes Mathisen, Tobii Dynavox’s product manager told us, “For us it is very important to achieve quality. We need to have a reliable and competent design manufacturing partner who can provide robust and reliable products, and that’s the key metric for supplier evaluation.”

Being a global supplier of medical and industrial tablets for over 30 years, Advantech has a dedicated team for Design and Manufacturing Service (DMS) that provide professional customization services for ODM mobile products, from collaborative design, flexible manufacturing, tailored software to global support. Advantech mobile DMS team who understand requirements for building rugged tablets and regulations for medical devices, went the extra mile for this project, by not only meeting the criteria, but also providing a sustainable solution, customized software, and global logistics and after-sale services.

A Sustainable Product is the Key to Long-term Services

At the beginning of the product development process, Tobii Dynavox and Advantech spent around 6 months just to work out the industrial design. The mobile DMS team flew to Tobii Dynavox’s U.S. office in Pittsburgh twice during this time to understand and realize Tobii Dynavox’s design concept.

In contrast to Advantech’s previous industrial applications, instead of focusing on the size and weight of tablets, robustness was the top priority. But for Tobii Dynavox’s users, tablets needed to be light-weight without compromising on operation times, robustness, and waterproof resistance. The tablets also needed to be ergonomically designed to fit the eye tracking functions, and to allow face-to-face communication as natural as possible, as well as to have connectivity and functions that consumer tablets have. Mr. Anders Malnes Mathisen commented, “It’s very important to deliver features that are differentiated from consumer tablets. We can provide a lot of value by offering powerful and unique features, such as the partner window.”

To achieve Tobii Dynavox’s design requirements, Advantech did many things not yet tried before, from unique printed circuit board design, to sourcing extra small size components, and even to the selection of the touch panel. Industrial grade touch panels are normally thicker than consumer panels due to their impact-resistant and vandal proof features. To achieve Tobii Dynavox’s aesthetic design concept, the mobile DMS team took advantage of Advantech’s global supply chain and found a thin panel that not only passed drop tests, but also complied with medical safety and EMC regulations.

When product development was nearly finished, unexpected component end-of-life and shortage issues occurred. It’s easy for most of us to buy a new phone or a new laptop every now and then. For Tobii Dynavox’s users, getting used to or being trained to use a new AAC device might take several months, and afterwards the AAC device would become a lasting companion. To ensure a long-term service for the new I-Series products, Tobii Dynavox made a painful decision to make a design change, which has set the project back for one year. But thanks to Advantech’s global sourcing ability and understanding of sustainable product design, the mass-produced products were finally delivered in the last quarter of 2019.

Mr. Anders Malnes Mathisen commented, “The beginning of the project was very challenging, but looking at what the new I-Series products have achieved. We are very happy with our partnership with Advantech.” The new I-Series products have helped thousands of physically challenged individuals in several countries since its launch at the end of 2019. The sales of I-Series products heavily rely on medical professionals to raise the awareness of such advanced and dedicated AAC devices among patients. Tobii Dynavox’s deep understanding of national health insurance schemes and subsidies for medical aids in Europe and North America, as well as connections with local authorities, special-needs education schools, and patient groups, contribute to the promotion and awareness of I-Series products.

Apart from Europe and North America, Tobii Dynavox is also ambitiously promoting I-Series products in Japan and China. Undoubtedly, Tobii Dynavox’s years of effort can draw attention to medical professionals and local authorities in many more countries to help more people in need. Looking to the future, Tobii Dynavox and Advantech continue searching for the latest technologies and developments that can benefit people with physical disabilities to empower them to live independent fulfilling lives.