Monday, August 31, 2009

Technology Enables ALS Patient to Create Virtual Graffiti

The EyeWriter project is on ongoing collaborative research effort to empower PALS to create visual art using open-sourced creative technology. This project is of particular interest to Prize4Life, as it exemplifies the incredible power of crowdsourcing in an effort to improve the quality of life for ALS patients. The EyeWriter enables PALS to act upon the world according to their passions and skills, less limited by the effects of ALS.

Using creative technologies, the project enables ALS patients to design and project ‘virtual graffiti’ using just their eyes. In 2009 in Los Angeles, members of the Graffiti Research Lab, Free Art and Technology, Open Frameworks and The Ebling Group (open-source tech communities) began a project with legendary LA graffiti writer and activist Tony Quan. Tony was diagnosed with ALS in 2003. Like many PALS, Tony retains use of his eyes, but is paralyzed in the rest of his body.

In August of 2009, artists from London, Hong Kong, Madrid, Amsterdam and New York City, got together in southern California and began to work with Tony on a low-cost, open source eye-tracking system that would allow ALS patients to draw using just their eyes.

The result? The EyeWriter, a system constructed from material found in local hardware and electronics stores (see the videos here and here). The software is written using open-source libraries.

The system enabled Quan to draw his tag for the first time in over 5 years, which was then transmitted in real-time and projected outside on a wall he could see from his hospital window (see a diagram here). The team says its long-term goal is to create a network of software developers, urban projection artists, and ALS patients from around the world who are using local materials and open source research to make eye art.

The group also designed a “mobile broadcast unit,” a low-powered, networked bicycle capable of projecting onto the side of a building (or street sign, or train). The artists and technicians responsible for this “eye vandalism” promise that the manuals and software will be publicly available soon.

The group says that the low-cost system can allow ALS patients (with the help of their family and caregivers) to make visual art. Further, when combined with Mobile Broadcast Units (a low-powered, networked bicycle capable of projecting onto the side of a building (or street sign, or train)), a networked version of the EyeWriter can enable patients to have a large-scale presence in public spaces.

This is another compelling example of ALS patients who have turned a practice of ‘survival’ into the wholehearted pursuit of life.

by Meghan Kallman

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