World’s first automated motor skill test – exploiting the power of touch tablets

Results presented at Ubicomp 2016, Heidelberg, Germany

Knowledge and cognitive ability tests have been automated and are taken on computers for more than three decades now. Pretty much all of you would have taken a SAT, GMAT or a GRE. What about motor skills? They are needed for almost all vocational jobs, say a plumber’s manual dexterity in fixing a screw. The best tests for them still are these bulky boards, pegs and instruments.

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Fig 1. Manual motor skill testing equipment – Pegboard and Pinboard

No one till date really thought about exploiting the power of the touch interfaces to develop such tests. Touch screen based devices are now ubiquitous in form of mobile phones and tablets. We wanted to find whether we can test people’s skills, say in tailoring and machining, by making them do things on the tablet. We wrote creative apps to make them do various actions on a tablet — rotating their fingers, pinching them, moving their elbows and shoulders to trace… and so on.

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         Fig 2. Touch interface device (Tab)                                            Fig 3. Snapshots of our motor skills assessment apps

We reported in our Ubicomp paper, presented last week, that the scores from these tests actually do predict the speed and accuracy of industrial tasks done by machinists, tailors and machine operators. In fact, they are better predictors than the bulky manual tests! Our test scores can predict all parameters of task performance measured by us. The correlation ranges 0.19 to 0.37, similar to what a logical ability test would predict for a knowledge worker. In comparison, manual test scores correlate significantly only for 4 out of 7 task performance ratings and ranges 0.19-0.33.

This has great implications for the training and job matching of vocational workers. Using these apps, vocational job aspirants can test their motor skills at the comfort of their homes. They can get feedback and work on improving their skills. Also, if they perform well, they can generate credentials such as “Motor skills certified for a tailor” and highlight them to employers. The same assessments can be used by the industry to filter and recruit high performing employees.

We are happy to present the world’s first validated motor skill test. There is so much more opportunity for further research – figuring out which scores correlate to performance in which task, creating a job to score map, creating more innovative apps and so on… Let us do it with the power of the touch interface.

-Varun