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Click is a tool that helps people with impaired mobility and sensory disabilities to connect with the world

Click is a tool that helps people with impaired mobility and sensory disabilities to connect with the world

Ricard Casanovas is a student on the UPC-UPF interuniversity degree in Industrial Technologies and Economia Analysis and co-creator of a keyboard for children with degenerative diseases

28.03.2022

Ricard Casanovas is a student on the UPC-UPF interuniversity degree in Industrial Technologies and Economic Analysis, a degree taught entirely in English that combines subjects from industrial design with the fundamentals of economics.

He is also one of the creators of ‘Click!’, an application and keyboard designed to help children who have lost their faculties of communication as a result of a degenerative disease. Although the project began in 2015 at a robotics tournament, the initiative had been on hold until 2019, when Ricard redesigned the prototype for his Baccalaureate Research Project. Besides receiving a number of different awards, the Sant Joan de Déu Hospital in Barcelona took an interest in the initiative and invited him to develop it further.

Communication is one of the basic faculties of any individual, and one that helps to give us our identity. So losing this ability generates high levels of frustration both for the person suffering the disease and their family and friends. The motivation to create the ‘Click!’ keyboard did not come about by chance. Ricard’s younger brother, Martí, suffered from Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), a disease that affects mobility and speech.

This initiative has a very long trajectory, what are its beginnings?

The ‘Click!’ project arose from a robotics group I was in called The Santperencs, during an International Robotics tournament, the First Lego League (FLL). The theme for that edition was children’s education, and with The Santperencs we decided to create a tool to help children diagnosed with DIPG, like my brother Martí, to communicate. It would enable him to communicate with the world around him, access educational tools at school and relate with his friends.

How has the project evolved from what you presented at the First Lego League?

This project began in 2015, and, from then until 2016, we worked on a prototype made using pieces of Lego. The keyboard won the regional Lego League and we then came second in the state final. But once that all came to an end, the project was shelved. So, when I began the Baccalaureate, I thought that I’d really like this initiative to get off the ground and I redesigned it as a Research Project (TdR).

The TdR received a couple of prizes, as well as a proposal from Sant Joan de Déu Hospital, which was interested in the project. It turns out that one of the members of the jury for my TdR was also a doctor at that hospital and my project really caught his attention. So they offered me the chance to collaborate with UPC’s CIM Foundation and the Department of Research and Investigation at Sant Joan de Déu Hospital to develop a prototype of the keyboard.

With The Santperencs we decided to create a tool to help children like my brother, Martí. That way he could communicate with the world around him, access educational tools at school and relate with his friends.

What phase is the project at now?

I began with The Santperencs and then, with the TdR, it became my own project. But for the prototype I’m working on now, there’s a whole team at Sant Joan de Déu who are helping me. We are currently trying to begin a test phase with children at the Hospital to see what works and what could be improved.

Why did you decide to continue the ‘Click!’ project with Sant Joan de Déu Hospital after having redesigned it for your TdR?

First of all because it was a good opportunity. It was a very good offer and, on a personal level, I knew it would be very fulfilling. And, secondly, because I couldn’t let a project that was so fascinating, so simple and so useful, and that was started by a group of friends, end up on the scrap heap.

My idea was that the keyboard would not only help children with DIPG, like Martí, but could also serve as a tool so that people with communication and speech disabilities could connect with the world.

I couldn't let a project that was so fascinating, so simple and so useful, and that was started by a group of friends, end up on the scrap heap. 

How exactly does the device you're developing work?

The project consists of two parts: a keyboard and an application. We created the app with The Santperencs, and it comprises a series of pictograms and texts organised on the screen so that each position corresponds to a colour and an icon. In total there are ten buttons that correspond to the ten icons on the screen. The idea is for the user to create a message that is then recorded. Once created, the user has to click the red ‘alert’ button to notify the people around them with an audio signal.

Then there is the keyboard version. This is made using large easy-to-press keys in different colours so that children with DIPG or other diseases that cause mobility problems can use it without too much difficulty.

You’re currently studying an interuniversity degree given by UPC and UPF. What does it consist of?

Exactly, this is a degree in Industrial Technologies and Economic Analysis. The classes are given at UPC’s School of Industrial Engineering of Barcelona (ETSEIB) and at the Faculty of Economics and Business at UPF.

It works like this; at UPC you do the part that corresponds to the industrial engineering degree, only on a kind of “fast track”. For example, the degree chooses two subjects like Chemistry 1 and Chemistry 2, they select the core themes and, finally, these are reduced down to a single subject. That allows them to then introduce the subjects from the part on Economics, which is done at UPF.

How did you come to study a degree that combines subjects from industrial engineering with the fundamentals of economics?

Ever since I was little, I’ve been interested in numbers, and particularly in engineering. Also, since my father is an industrial engineer it was a world that I was familiar with. That’s why, when I finished my university entrance exams, I looked at different specialties in this sector, like industrial engineering or aerospace engineering, but none of them convinced me. But, at the Barcelona Education Fair I saw they were promoting this degree in Industrial Technologies and Economic Analysis, a degree that I’d heard talk of. It all seemed fascinating to me and, in the end, I opted to take this path.

Now that you have been studying this degree for some time, what is it about it that most stands out for you?

It has been very easy to adapt to doing it in English. In fact, that is the last of my worries. I was also surprised to find that, of all the things I’m learning, many of the concepts have an application in our daily lives, which I find really fascinating as it is not something I would have thought.

Do you think what you have learnt on the degree has helped you when it comes to developing the project?

Definitely. The degree has taught me to look at the more technical features and analyse the economic aspects of different parts of the project. In other words, it hasn’t just helped me to understand the technological factors of the prototypes, but also to see whether or not the project is feasible economically, or why someone would want to invest in such an initiative. I think these are two important factors for developing projects with these characteristics.

The UPC-UPF interuniversity degree in Industrial Technologies and Economic Analysis has taught me to look at the more technical features and analyse the economic aspects of different parts of the project. 

Once the prototype has passed the test phase, what is the future of the project?

I hope that in a not too distant future we can develop an even better version of the prototype. I would like to improve it and make it open source so that everyone can access it. My aim is to help as many people as possible. Right from the beginning, with The Santperencs, we wanted the project to be not-for-profit. We had no intention of making money from it and we always said that any profits made from the keyboard would go to the Sant Joan de Déu Foundation.

Besides the ‘Click!’ keyboard, do you have other projects you want to develop?

With my friends from the university we’ve started a YouTube channel on cars, which isn’t anything amazing but we enjoy ourselves. I would also like to get into the IT world. I have developed a great passion for specialties like web or app design.

We had no intention of making money from it. We always said that any profits made form the keyboard would go to the Sant Joan de Déu Foundation.

The ‘Click!’ keyboard now has an almost seven-year trajectory. What has the creation and evolution of this project meant to you? 

First of all, personal satisfaction. The whole process has helped me to really grow, as I’ve had to deal with adversity and frustration, things I wasn’t expecting, and I have had to resolve these issues. It has also meant overcoming hurdles and learning how to work as a team. I am very pleased to have been able to work with people who are so good in their field; I have learnt so much from them.

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