Computing for a Cause: UB’s Geeks Help Disabled Veterans Talk, Surf the Web, Gain Independence

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — Computer science might not be the obvious major for students looking to change the world. But two teams of University at Buffalo students are proving that programming can translate into compassion.

Last spring, Austin Miller, Robert Rodenhaus, Leonard Story Jr. and Matthew Taylor, classmates in a computer engineering class, developed OmniSwitch, a software program that enables quadriplegics and other people with limited mobility to type letters, surf the web, listen to music and play computer games with a single button or switch.

Now, the UB students are bringing their OmniSwitch technology into the real world, working with Buffalo-based Applied Sciences Group (ASG) to develop the software for disabled veterans at the Spinal Cord Injury center at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, Fla. The local technology firm has a $270,000 contract from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to develop an augmented communications network for spinal cord injury veterans at the Tampa center.

A second UB team — this one comprising computer science master’s students Ari Fogel and Praneeta Prakash — is working with ASG to develop a speech-generating software system that will enable nonverbal veterans to communicate with each other and caregivers; e-mail; text message; call friends via Skype; and complete tasks such as controlling the lights or TV via their computer.

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