Florida Polytechnic University students and a Tampa technology company are developing a mobile app that could help those with brain-based language impediments to express their emotions. This includes people with autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, dementia, aphasia, those who have suffered a traumatic brain injury or stroke, and many other language-impaired conditions.
The app, called OiGO–which comes from the Spanish word for “hear”–uses technology to overcome the communication barrier that so many of these patients struggle with. It allows the user to select the emotion they’re feeling–such as sadness–and then select a reason why that emotion is being felt. The two components to the app are OiGO SELF, the sentence construction portion, and OiGO HELP ME, which is the behavioral solution component.
“In essence, it’s a conversation starter,” said Albert Fernandez, co-founder and chief executive officer of Assistive Communications Technologies (ACT), based in Tampa, Florida. “We’ve conducted four years of pretty intensive research, and nothing exists to help them unite communication and emotion, two components that are so important to social and emotional health.”
Fernandez works closely with his cousin and business partner, Brenda Pharr Jensen. He said the inspiration for OiGO is from a family member with numerous language and speech impairments.
“We thought we could help solve two problems at once, the inability to express emotion and, as a result, the self-destructive behavior that ensues,” added Fernandez, who has been a language arts educator for more than 25 years.
The main challenge for ACT has been OiGO’s software development, and that’s where Florida Poly comes in. A group of five students has been working on not only the coding aspect of the development, but they are using their skills to provide a more enhanced user experience, such as eliminating scrolling functions to make selection easier.
“The whole focus is to make the user experience very friendly and very easy because it’s supposed to be helping people,” said Andrew Lopez, a senior from Valrico, Florida, majoring in computer science.
Thanks to the students’ work, the OiGO app became fully functional recently and entered its alpha testing phase. This will enable ACT to gather feedback from users to gauge the app’s functionality and go over the results with the students.
“I’m thrilled with what the students have done so far,” said Fernandez. “This is our passion and it’s something we really think is going to make a difference in the world.”
The group of students also includes Duniel Garcia (senior, Tampa, Florida, computer science), Jonathan Nguyen (senior, Windermere, Florida, computer science and information technology), Celeste Ramirez (senior, Eustis, Florida, computer science), and Jason Smith (senior, Jupiter, Florida, computer science.)
Assistant Director of Communications