Latest news: iPad version to be released imminently by Keep in Touch Australia.
In the future, we will have many special purpose digital appliances which are embedded within our environment. Just as we now have a toaster in our kitchen, even though it is not a general cooking device, so we will have a range of digital devices which serve specific needs. The KIT (Keep in Touch) project explores this broad direction in pervasive computing in relation to one core human need: keeping in touch with our closest family.
The initial vision for KIT was to make it easy for grandparents and their grandchildren to easily keep in touch with each other, even if the grandparents are beginning to suffer some cognitive loss and even when the grandchildren are young. There are no current technologies that work well for this task because small children are not typically allowed to use the phone without supervision and they cannot use email because they cannot read and, at the other extreme, elderly people may have difficulties with email. We also wanted to support spontaneity: so, for example, when a small child has an exciting experience or comes home excited about an achievement at school, we want them to be easily able to to tell grandma. Equally, busy parents may often think about the grandparent but fail to find times when they can make phone calls. The challenges of keeping in touch are exacerbated when there are time zone differences, making it hard to work out times that are convenient to ring and chat.
The Keep-in-Touch system provides a messaging appliance that allows convenient voice messaging between family members. The touch screen version is intended to be in places like the kitchen, family room or even a small child’s bedroom. So, for example, a child can send a message to grandma very simply: they touch grandma’s picture and talk. Once finished the message, they touch “send”. When messages arrive at grandma’s house, they look like a small envelope on the child’s picture and grandma can simply touch this to hear the message.
In collaborative research with colleagues at the University of Melbourne, KIT was trialled in homes over several weeks. Kit is now being commercialised by Keep in Touch Australia, a spin-off company from the Smart Internet Technology Cooperative Research Centre. In 2008, the company won a COMET grant which enabled it to take KIT to the next stage and to place KIT systems into the homes of elderly people and their families so that they can more easily maintain contact. In 2010, KIT was ported to the iPad.
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