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Student project targets memory impairment

People with memory-impairing diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, are not only losing their memories—they’re also losing their independence. And as memory loss worsens, they rely may more on others to help them with daily tasks.

For a senior capstone project, a team of Northeastern University engineering students sought a way to help, knowing that more than 15 million Americans suffer from some form of dementia. Using Google Glass, the students developed a program called Memory Assistive Glasses, or MAG, which could help individuals with memory impairments identify people they come in contact with and provide instructions for everyday tasks.

The team of Matthew Mahagan, Stephen Morin, Evan Scorpio, Chris Valek, and Michael Harrington, all E’14, took second place in this year’s Electrical and Computer Engineering capstone competition. Waleed Meleis, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, served as the students’ faculty adviser.

For its senior capstone project, a team of engineering students developed a program using Google Glass. The students say it could help memory-impaired individuals identify people they come in contact with and perform daily tasks. Photo by Mariah Amasanti.

For its senior capstone project, a team of engineering students developed a program using Google Glass. The students say it could help memory-impaired individuals identify people they come in contact with and perform daily tasks. Photo by Maria Amasanti.

Here’s how MAG works: Information about friends and family members is added to a database on a private server using an Android application. Then, using the Google Glass, the user takes a picture of someone. The server, in turn, performs facial recognition and returns the information about that person to the user via Google Glass. The process takes all of three seconds.

In addition to identifying individuals, the system is also capable of providing instructions for various tasks. The program has QR codes that users can assign to certain objects in their home, such as a coffee pot or a trash can. For example, the user could scan the coffee pot’s QR code and step-by-step instructions for making coffee would appear on the Google Glass.

“It can help you with any information you need to know,” Harrington said, “because you create the database.”

The idea for the project derived from Lifestream, Inc., a Bedford, Massachusetts-based human services organization that works with Northeastern’s Enabling Engineering student group.

In addition to helping people with memory loss, MAG could also help users complete certain tasks, group members said.

“Lifestream told me that if it were an autistic person’s job to empty trashcans in a large room, having the instructions readily available could keep them on track,” Meleis said. “As a way to promote independence, it would be nice if the glasses could flash instructions and reminders.”

Going forward, Meleis said, the hope is that Enabling Engineering members will continue working on the project, with capstone team members serving as advisers.

The senior capstone team works on its project, Memory Assistive Glasses. Photo by Mariah Amasanti.

The senior capstone team works on its project, Memory Assistive Glasses. Photo by Maria Amasanti.