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Keyboard for disabled to unleash potential

Keyboard for disabled to unleash creative potential

Tuesday 17 May 2005

A computer keyboard for the physically disabled will help unleash the creative potential in millions worldwide, say developers.

LOMAK (light operated mouse and keyboard) is being launched this week by Auckland company Lomak International Limited, and was invented by an Auckland University of Technology student.

Lomak International CEO Chris Mulcare says LOMAK will help empower physically disabled people who with existing technology can only input at speeds of between two and eight words per minute.

“With LOMAK they are able to achieve normal typing speeds. It is a very intuitive design making LOMAK easy and fast to learn.”

LOMAK connects to an ordinary desktop or laptop computer without the need for additional software. It receives signals from a hand-operated pointer or a low powered laser pointer attached to a headband or cap worn by the user. He or she simply points at a letter on the keyboard and then to a central confirm key to input a keystroke.

AUT is the first tertiary institution to purchase LOMAK and is taking delivery this week of five units for the university’s adaptive technology laboratory and for use by AUT disabled students.

AUT Deputy Vice-Chancellor Phillip Sallis says the development of LOMAK mirrors AUT’s approach to its teaching and learning programmes.

“AUT’s research and teaching programmes are aimed at unlocking the potential of those who study here and I believe that LOMAK has the potential to do this for thousands around the world who otherwise would not be able to effectively use a computer.

“The University’s philosophy of embracing technology, innovation and empowering people is reflected in the development of LOMAK and we are proud to be the first tertiary institution to purchase LOMAK units.”


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LOMAK is the brainchild of Mike Watling, an electrician who has had an interest in helping disabled people for more than a decade. He noticed how rudimentary assistive technology was while working with the disabled at a Glendene home-stay and decided he could invent something better.

After working on early prototypes without much support in the mid-nineties, he met with AUT’s Professor Steve Henry, who suggested he enrol as a student at AUT and take advantage of expertise in the university’s electrotechnology department. Mike enrolled in a diploma of applied science in January 2001 and found the necessary support to develop the concept, philosophy and science behind LOMAK as well as assistance for the production of early prototypes.

Auckland Company Realize Technology saw considerable commercial potential for the product after reviewing the early prototype in December 2001. Realize was established to support the public science sector in the area of technology commercialisation.

Says Chris Mulcare, who is also a director of Realize: “We feel there is a place for companies like Realize working alongside universities to help them commercialise their intellectual property. We believe LOMAK is a perfect example of successful collaboration between a university and the private sector.”

After the initial review, a rigorous process of technical/product analysis and market research was undertaken to establish whether LOMAK would live up to the potential it promised. “We were looking for a product that had global potential in a niche market that was technologically sound and different to anything else available.

“From an ethical perspective it fitted well with the technology and market sectors we wish to be involved in ¯ we knew it was a product that could significantly improve people’s lives.”

After LOMAK passed the market viability test, a clinical assessment of the technology was made by Ministry of Health assessment agency Talk Link. Realize also conducted a number of user trials and got testimonials from people with different levels of disability.

With 15 years experience as a clinician Jim Palmer, a clinical assessor at Talk Link, is a leading authority in the field of assistive technology.

“I feel that LOMAK has enormous potential for people who are unable to use a conventional keyboard. It adds a unique option to the assistive technology market.”

ENDS

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