Makers Making Change – Canada provides $750,000 to fund development of Open Source AT

Makers Making Change have a mission, to “connect makers to people with disabilities who need assistive technologies”. This is also our mission and something we’ve talked about before, it is also the goal of a number of other projects including TOM Global and Enable Makeathon. Makers Making Change which is being run by Canadian NGO the Neil Squire Society and supported by Google.org differs from previous projects sharing the same goal in a couple of ways. Firstly their approach. They are currently concentrating their efforts on one particular project, the LipSync and touring the North American continent holding events where groups of Makers get together and build a quantity of these devices. These events are called Buildathons. This approach both raises awareness about their project within the maker community while also ensuring they have plenty of devices in stock, ready to go out to anybody who needs them. Secondly, thanks to the recent promise from the Canadian government of funding to the tune of $750,000 they may be on the verge of bringing their mission into the mainstream.

Canada have always had a well-deserved reputation for being at the forefront of Assistive Technology and Accessibility. It is one of only a handful of nations the rest of the world look to for best practice approaches in the area of disability. For that reason this funding announced by Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, Carla Qualtrough may have a positive effect even greater than its significant monetary value, and far beyond Canada’s borders. Minster Qualtrough stated the funding was “for the development of a network of groups and people with technical skills to support the identification, development, testing, dissemination and deployment of open source assistive technologies.” Specifying that it is Open Source assistive technologies they will be developing and disseminating means that any solutions identified will have the potential to be reproduced by makers anywhere in the world. It is also interesting that the funding is to support the development of a network of groups and people rather than specific technologies, the goal here being sustainability. Neil Squire Society Executive Director, Gary Birch said “This funding is instrumental in enabling the Neil Squire Society to develop, and pilot across Canada, an innovative open source model to produce and deliver hardware-based assistive technologies to Canadians with disabilities. Hopefully this forward thinking move by the Canadian Government will inspire some EU governments into promoting and maybe even funding similar projects over here.

What is the LipSync?

The Lipsync is an Open Source Sip&Puff low force joystick that can enable access to computers or mobile devices for people without the use of their hands. Sound familiar? If you are a regular reader of this blog you are probably thinking about the FlipMouse, they are similar devices. I haven’t used the LipSync but from what I’ve read it offers slightly less functionality than the Flipmouse but this may make it more suitable for some users. Take a look at the video below.

If you want to know more about LipSync have a look at their project page on Hackaday.io where you will find build instructions, bill of materials, code and user manual.

If the idea of building or designing a technology that could enhance the life of someone with a disability or an older person appeals to you, either head down to your local maker space (Ireland, Global) or set a date in your diary for Ireland’s premier Maker Faire – Dublin Maker which will take place in Merrion Square, Dublin 4 on Saturday July 22nd. We’ll be there showing the FlipMouse as well as some of our more weird and wonderful music projects. There will also be wild, exciting and inspiring demonstrations and projects from Maker Spaces/Groups and Fab Labs from around the country and beyond. See here for a list of those taking part. 

From LOMAK to MILO – Good ideas are never obsolete

One of the more dubious advantages of working in a long running Assistive Technology service is access to an ever growing supply of obsolete hardware. While much of it is worthless junk now considering the technological progress in the field over the last 10 years, there are some real gems to be rediscovered. These were innovative solutions of their time grounded in strong research and while being seemingly made obsolete by a newer technology actually still have much to offer. The LOMAK keyboard is certainly one of these and being possibly the only piece of AT on permanent display at New York’s Museum of Modern Art I’m obviously not alone in thinking this.

top picture showing a man using the LOMAK keyboard with a laptop computer. bottom picture shows the layout of the LOMAK keyboard. Three rings, large centre ring for letters, right ring numbers, left ring symbols

The LOMAK (Light Operated Mouse And Keyboard) was invented by New Zealander Mike Watling and first came on the market in 2005 after a number of years research. It allowed hands free computer access through the innovative use of a laser pointer and light sensitive keyboard and mouse controls. To make the light sensitive keyboard and mouse (I’ll call it an input device from here) Watling used an array or photoresistors, one for each keyboard, mouse action and setting. This amounted to a whopping 122 photoresistors and possibly the most electronically complex input device ever marketed. Although complex the idea behind the LOMAK is quite straight forward. Photoresistors change their resistance depending on the amount of light they are picking up. Once you figure out roughly how much shining a laser pen on the resistor changes its value you have a good idea of where to set your threshold. You can then use the photo-resistor as a straightforward momentary switch, like a keyboard key, that activates once the resistance goes above/below a certain threshold. If you are like me you will want to see inside this thing so here it is.. (Below), a thing of beauty I’m sure you’ll agree.

The LOMAK keyboard opened out to reveal the photo-resistors and the circuit board.

So why aren’t more people using LOMAK keyboards today? Well eye tracking technology was just starting to become a realistic possibility for AT users with devices like the Tobii P10 hitting the market.  Eye tracking just made more sense for computer access, it allows a neater more mobile solution and it a more direct input method. What has given the whole concept behind the LOMAK a new lease of life is the availability of cheap user-friendly prototyping platforms like Arduino.
This was the basis of one of the project proposals we made available to the final year students of the BSc (Honours) Creative Media Technologies course in IADT. Over the last few years Enable Ireland AT service have worked with IADT lecturer Conor Brennan to provide students with a selection of project briefs that both fit with their learning and skills while also fulfilling a need that has been recognised through our work supporting AT users and professionals in the area. This particular brief was to create a MIDI interface based on the same concept as the LOMAK that would allow someone to perform and compose music using only head movements. There are solutions available that use eye tracking to achieve this, for example the fantastic EyeHarp and more recently Ruud van der Wel of My Breath My Music released his Eye Play Music  software. However these solutions all require a computer, we wanted something that was more in keeping with current trends in mainstream electronic music which seems to be moving back to a more hardware based performance. Thankfully a particularly talented student by the name of Rudolf Triebel took on the challenge of designing and building what we are now calling the MILO (Musical Interface using Laser Operation) (previously called LOMI Light Operated MIDI Interface which I think is much better..:). Rudolf exceeded our expectations and created the prototype you can see in the (badly filmed, sorry) video below. He has also created a tutorial including wiring diagram, code and bill of materials and put it up on Instructables to allow the project to be replicated and improved by others.

If you would like to see and maybe have a go of the MILO prototype (in its spanking new laser cut enclosure) Conor Brennan of IADT will be showing and demonstrating it at the 25th EAN Conference which takes place in University College Dublin between Sunday 29th – Tuesday 31st May.
Keep an eye on electroat.com where I hope to add a few more detailed posts on building, modifying and increasing the functionality of Rudolf’s design. I will also look into the possibility of using the same concept for building a hands free video game controller.

Accessible Music Technology and Practice Seminar

accessible music technology photo montage

On February 23rd Enable Ireland Assistive Technology Service and the Institute of Art Design and Technology (IADT) Dun Laoghaire will be holding an Accessible Music Technology and Practice Seminar. This is a rare opportunity for anybody interested in music and disability to hear a highly experienced range of speakers from Ireland, the UK and Norway who are involved in the design and development of accessible musical instruments/interfaces, the delivery of accessible musical education or in supporting musicians and performers with disabilities. Places are limited so advanced booking is essential.

For more details see electroAT.com/amtp where you will find the booking form and regular updates as the day approaches.

Who might be interested in attending?

  • Musicians or aspiring musicians with a disability.
  • Musicians or music therapists who work with people with disabilities.
  • Music teachers or community musicians interested in providing more inclusive classes and environments.
  • Therapists or anybody who works with or supports people with disabilities that would like to introduce music based activities.
  • Product or software designers interested in creating alternative musical instruments and interfaces.

Contributors

As you will see from the range of experience below this promises to be a very interesting group representing all areas from the design and development of accessible hardware and software to practice based experience of working with musicians with disabilities.

Dr Tim Anderson (inclusivemusic.org.uk ) – has been involved with developing technology and software for enabling people with disabilities to make music for the last 25 years. Over that time he has been Research and Development (R&D) manager and later Technology manager with Drake Music and more recently an independent consultant to the software developers as well as to schools, colleges, councils and individuals. Tim developed, sells and supports the E-Scape software system, that allows people to compose and play music unaided, whatever their physical ability or musical knowledge.

Elin SkogdalSKUG Centre, Norway. The SKUG Centre provides education and support for musicians with disabilities. They also offer training, education, demonstrations, and advice for teachers and supporters and participate in the development of specialist hardware and software for access to music making.

Dr Brendan McCloskey (Ulster University, School of Creative Arts and Technologies) is a musician and designer working closely with performers with disabilities. Having worked extensively a researcher and practitioner in the field of inclusive community music with Ulster University, Drake Music N. Ireland, Drake Music UK, Share Music Sweden and Stravaganza Production Company across the past 15 years, he has designed an innovative digital instrument for musicians with quadriplegic cerebral palsy. The instrument, called inGrid, was shortlisted for the Prix Ars Electronica one-handed musical instrument competition in November 2013, and selected as a finalist for the Margaret Guthman Prize run by Georgia Tech in Atlanta, January 2014. He will discuss the key innovations underpinning inGrid, and how they will be developed in the immediate future.

Brian Dillon (Unique Perspectives) designer and manufacturer of assistive technology solutions who along with Ruud van der Wel (MyBreathMyMusic) has developed accessible music technologies such as the Quintet and the Magic Flute. The Quintet is an exciting device that enables people with disabilities to play music using switches. Easy to use and set-up it is suitable for teachers, therapists, parents and others who want to use music in an activity with children or adults. It can be used with a group of people or by a single individual. The Magic Flute is an electronic musical instrument that enables people whose only reliable movement is the head and breath to play music. The flute is similar to a harmonica or slide whistle in that it requires no fingers to play and both note and expression can be controlled using the mouth.

Grainne McHale and Graham McCarthy from SoundOUT , a group based in Cork who provides inclusive music-making and performance opportunities for young people with and without disabilities in Ireland.

Jason Noone – music therapist active in clinical work, music therapy training/supervision and research. He is a member of the Music and Health Research Group at the University of Limerick. His clinical expertise are mainly in the area of developmental disability and research interests include sensory integration and music therapy, music technology for access and participation and participatory action research.

Koichi Samuels – PhD candidate based at the Sonic Arts Research Centre (SARC), Queen’s University Belfast. He is researching inclusive music practices and interfaces with Drake Music Northern Ireland, a charity that aims to enable musicians with physical disabilities and learning difficulties to compose and perform their own music through music technology.  Research interests include: inclusive music, DMIs, DIY/maker culture, critical design, HCI.