Bigham Would Use "The Crowd" to Help People With Disabilities

Computer Science Professor Jeffrey Bigham has won a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award for his proposal, "Closed-Loop Crowd Support of People with Disabilities."

Bigham describes his work at the University of Rochester as being "at the intersection of human-computer interaction, human computation, and artificial intelligence," with a focus on developing innovative technologies that serve people with disabilities. His NSF proposal would enable a dynamic group of people on the web ("the crowd") to work collectively to help those who are visually impaired or have other disabilities.

For example, a person who is blind or deaf may be in need of directions, but other people are not always available to lend a hand. The challenge for Bigham is how to develop an interactive system that provides high-quality feedback in real-time while compensating for unreliable individuals and constant turnover in the crowd.

Last year, Bigham released his VizWiz application, which allows people who are blind to take pictures with their iPhones and ask questions, then quickly (in under a minute) receive responses from the crowd. In that way, the blind person in need of directions can be told where he or she is located and how to get to a destination.

"While VizWiz works quickly," said Bigham, "it doesn't provide the real-time feedback loop necessary for many real-world tasks."

The NSF has awarded Bigham $500,000 under the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program to carry out the research for his proposal over the next five years.

The CAREER awards are given "in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations," according to the NSF program guidelines.

"The NSF award is designed to help launch the careers of young researchers," said Henry Kautz, Computer Science Chair at the University. "It's confirmation that Bigham is an up-and-coming leader in the field of human-computer interaction and web cloud computing."

Bigham did undergraduate work at Princeton University and earned both his master's degree and Ph.D. from the University of Washington. He came to the University of Rochester as an assistant professor in July 2009.