Project of the Month, December 2011: TICO

TICO

TICO is a tool for the design and execution of interactive communication boards. Communication boards are highly used in augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) environments. TICO was developed to help people working in that area (teachers, specialists, parents, etc.) making the development of communication environments customized for the final user easy.

(See previous Project Of The Month winners)

Why and how did you get started?

The first tool prototype was started in 2005, in the framework of the collaboration between the Dept. of Computer Science of the University of Zaragoza and the Special Education State School Alborada of Zaragoza, which works with people with (severe) speech and language impairments. The school was involved in developping a wide set of digital pictograms and wanted a tool able to create communication sequences.

Who is the software’s intended audience?

Mainly people working in the AAC areas.

What are a couple of notable examples of how people are using your software?

TICO is being used in a wide set of domains, larger than it was initially envisaged. In the first approach, it was a digital version facilitating the creation of communication boards by means of the big set of integrated pictograms, extensively used in the AAC domain. Currently it is also being
used to improve communication skills, teaching correct formation of sentences, interaction and social development of autistic people, etc. Since the tool allows automatic browsing, it is also being used for people with physical impairments.

What are the system requirements for your software, and what do people need to know about getting it set up and running?

One of the requirements established by the AAC communication experts of the Alborada school was that the tool should be easy to instal and very easy to use, and should not require expensive or complex hardware. So, people just need to download the tool from Source Forge, double-click instal and then download the free set of about 9000 pictograms from the ARASAAC web (http://www.catedu.es/arasaac/).

What gave you an indication that your project was becoming successful?

Once the first official release was published in May 2010 we started to receive lots of questions and feedback from teachers, specialists and parents around the world.

What has been your biggest surprise?

We did not think people all over the world would be using the tool.

What has been your biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge was and is still the same: to be able to satisfy the new demands users make, which usually require the addition of some new features in the software. TICO has been developped by means of a set of successive final projects our students in computer science must do. This makes it difficult to satisfy the new demands until a new release with enough new characteristics to be considered as a final studies project can be provided.

Why do you think your project has been so well received?

Communication environments in the AAC world need to be specific for each final user, and also for concrete situations. That imposes those environments to be prepared and customized by the people who really know the needs and interests of each final user: their teachers, parents, etc. TICO makes this task very easy. Using TICO projects does not require any specific hardaware beyond a computer.

What advice would you give to a project that’s just starting out?

Assuming the set of potential clients is clearly defined, choosing a correct development methodology is crucial, as well as a close interaction with the expert potential users.

Where do you see your project going?

The project is more ambitious than the TICO software. Our aim is to develop a set of tools enhancing the use of the set of pictograms, always in the field of AAC, and becoming a kind of suite. We intend to release the first version of AraWord soon, a word processor embedding both text and pictograms. And of course, future releases with some extensions and improvements are being required by TICO users.

What’s on your project wish list?

We must properly organize things in Sourceforge so that contributing developers can join the project in an effective way.

What are you most proud of?

We think the tool accomplished its main objective: helping people to help people with communication problems. Considering the questions and comments we have received about the tool, we can ensure that it is being used not only by specialists, but also by parents of children with impairments.

If you could change something about the project, what would it be?

In the beginning about 99% of our users used the same commercial operating system. This made us focus on delivering the tool in a shortest time possible to run over that system. Currently there are users requiring alternative systems, but the current version is not 100% fully compatible. Making the tool fully compatible for all the common operating systems is a requirement.

How do you coordinate the project?

Considering the way the tool has been developped (last year degree students) the process was as follows: the student had to collect a set of extensions and improvements (including bugs to solve) users stated as necessary big enough to be developped in about four months of full-time work, design a solution and, in a close relationship with the specialists of the Alborada school, develop the extended/improved version. One of the objectives, on the students’ side, was to work in an independent way.

How many hours a month do you and/or your team devote to the project?

That’s quite complicated to evaluate. The way the tool has been developed throughout these years, with a few periods of more intense work and longer periods of no time devoted to it, makes any cost evaluation very difficult.

What is your development environment like?

One of the objectives was for the software to properly work on different platforms. It has been developed using Eclipse and Java..

Milestones:

Version / Date Milestone
November, 2005 First prototype
November, 2006 First complete version of the editor
August, 2007 New advanced prototype of the interpreter
June, 2008 Addition of the validation module
September, 2008 New version of the pictogram database access module
June, 2010 Release of the first estable version (the current one)

It is not yet clear when a new version will be released.

How can others contribute?

This is our current main challenge. The future of TICO requires a development community to be created. This is where others can contribute.


More projects of the month

Project name: TICO

Date founded: 2005

Project page: http://www.proyectotico.es

Project Leaders


Prof. Joaquín Ezpeleta

Joaquín Ezpeleta

Occupation:Professor, Dept. of Computer Sicence and Systems Engineering
Location:Zaragoza, Spain
Education:M.S. in Mathematics, Ph.D. in computer science


José Manuel Marcos

José Manuel Marcos

Occupation:Speech therapist at the Special Education State School Alborada, Responsible for the contents at the Aragonees Website for the AAC – ARASAAC.
Location:Zaragoza, Spain
Education:Speech therapist

Key Contributor


Fernando Negré

Fernando Negré

Occupation:Analyst/developer in M.E.S (Manufacturing Execution System)

Location:Valencia, Spain
Education:Computer Science Engineering. University of Zaragoza


Pablo Muñoz

Pablo Muñoz

Occupation:Software analyst, systems administration
Education:Computer Science Engineering. University of Zaragoza
Location:Zaragoza, Spain


David Ramos

David Ramos

Occupation:Software analyst (bank and investment area)
Education:Computer Science Engineering. University of Zaragoza
Location:Valencia, Spain


Antonio Rodríguez

Antonio Rodríguez

Occupation:Senior Consultant at PwC
Location:Zaragoza, Spain
Education:Computer Science Engineering. University of Zaragoza


Beatriz Mateo

Beatriz Mateo

Occupation:Software Engineer
Location:Logroño, Spain
Education:Computer Science Engineering. University of Zaragoza


Patricia Martínez

Location:Zaragoza, Spain
Education:Computer Science Engineering. University of Zaragoza


Carolina Palacio

Carolina Palacio

Occupation:Senior software engineer, Indra Systems
Location:Zaragoza, Spain
Education:Computer Science Engineering. University of Zaragoza


Alborada State School, teaching staff and students

Alborada State School, teaching staff and students

Occupation:Special Education
Location:Zaragoza, Spain

Why did you place the project on SourceForge.net?

We started using Source Forge after the first prototype was developed. The main reason was that it provides developpers and users with a stable place to organize sources and distribute applications.

How has SourceForge.net helped your project succeed?

Source Forge spares the people involved in the project the worry of maintaining, distributing and tracking different versions, which allows them to concentrate on the application itself.

The number one benefit of using SourceForge.net is:

Source Forge offers the resources any project requires: a secure repository with version control and the possibility of bug tracking as well as a good download centre with use statistics.