Stephen Hawking is well known for his work in the field of quantum mechanics and cosmology. A motor neuron disease (ALS) has been paralysing his muscles for the past few decades. Stephen uses a speech device attached to his cheek muscle to communicate. Technology has helped one of the brightest minds to communicate with the world. Thanks to a two-year-long collaborative effort of technology magnate Intel and predictive typing expert Swiftkey. Hawking’s story is a familiar one. There are other stories worth mentioning because they have the potential to positively impact the lives of people affected by Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.
The Story of EyeWriter
The EyeWriter is a product of the efforts of Free Art and Technology, OpenFrameworks, Graffiti Research Lab, with support from The Ebeling group and Not Impossible Foundation. Result of the synergistic effort of organisations with ideas rooted in open source technologies, extending its reach to a bigger audience.
The project aimed to help artists generate designs with eye movements. Tony Quan was the first artist to be associated with Rewrite and was finally able to draw after eight years. The outcome was an affordable eye-tracking system which enables artistic expression overcoming limitations of medical conditions. They planned to make it available for a larger audience by creating a compatible open source program/software for other eye-tracking devices in the market.
The complete process of building the headset was made available free on the Eye Writer website. This brought technology enthusiasts to bring modifications and improved its design. Thereby encouraging information sharing and expanding its reach to the underprivileged. Their initial model was put together with most basic components like PS3 Eye, Sunglasses and a computer which costs around US 50 dollars.
Brain writer is an innovative design that combines Ocular recognition technology and EEG tracker to enable people to move the mouse with their eyes and operate computers with their brain waves. The components of BrainWriter includes a headband, olimex sensors, shielding board, EEG device (OpenBCI board) and an eye-tracking device
The EEG technology is an expensive technology compatible only with selective platforms. Brainwriter’s open-source design costs US 400 dollars. The design is available on their website to encourage technology enthusiasts to bring further improvements.
EyeWriter and BrainWriter is a brainchild of the efforts of TemptOne and Not Impossible. It is an innovative effort which targets a niche group of people(those affected by motor neuron disease). They have undertaken other projects that extend the reach of technology to impoverished people. One such project involves a low-cost 3D printer to develop prosthetic arms, for a group of amputated children in South Sudan where ongoing conflicts have plagued the community. The affordable prosthetic arms give them a chance to regain confidence. Not impossible is a crowd-funded organisation dedicated to finding solutions to healthcare issues.