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Jacdac - a framework to turn assistive technology ideas into products

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


How do we get from an idea for an assistive technology (AT) device to a reliable AT prototype? If the prototype proves useful, how do we then create a marketable product?

Many people have ideas for new AT devices. Knowing how to turn these ideas into prototypes for evaluation requires expertise. Furthermore, turning a promising prototype into a reliable and affordable product requires specialist skills, equipment and money. AT devices are often only needed in small quantities, making them disproportionately expensive. As a result, many good ideas for AT are never implemented.

Microsoft has started an open-source project called Jacdac (https://aka.ms/jacdac) to enable people without specialist engineering skills to create technologically sophisticated devices. A series of plug-together boards can be easily programmed and configured through a web browser interface. This makes prototyping of hardware and software easier than ever before. Tools to carefully test devices, to automate the creation of enclosures for them and to support a transition to low volume manufacturing, are all part of the project. Collectively, these innovations make the design and manufacture of devices that will only ever be needed in small quantities practical.

Can Jacdac be used to make AT devices? We believe so! In 2021 an early version of the Jacdac system was used in a successful ‘hackathon’ where over 80 hackers from 4 continents explored and built AT devices. A video that describes this can be viewed at https://aka.ms/makeaccessible.

The Jacdac hardware and software infrastructure are under active development by Microsoft with collaborators from Lancaster University and elsewhere. The project is open-source and anybody can contribute. It is already available for use by makers and technologists, such as those working to create devices for people with specialised AT requirements.

External organisation (Funding body)

NameUniversity of Leeds