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Friday, November 27, 2015

How a father with motor neurone disease invents a wheelchair controlled by the eyes


Patrick Joyce, 46, was diagnosed with the progressive muscle-wasting condition in 2007 and told he would not live more than three years.

Eight years on, the former plumber has beaten more than 700 rivals in an international science competition with his revolutionary gadget.

It works by observing the user’s eye movements with a camera, which sends a video to a computer built in to the wheelchair. Special image processing software known as a ‘brain box’ then converts the eye movements into signals which move an electronic grip on the joystick.

Those with tetraplegia – who have completely or partially lost the use of their legs and arms – can use the system to steer, recline and alter the speed of their wheelchairs. It is different to the device used by fellow MND sufferer Professor Stephen Hawking, 73, who has a talking computer that he controls by moving his cheek.

Joyce, who is married to Kathy, 46, has even made an attachment that allows him to fire foam darts from a toy gun at his children.

After his illness left him totally reliant on a wheelchair, he spent two years designing the device with two other inventors – fellow MND sufferer Steve Evans, from Surrey, and British filmmaker David Hopkinson. They entered their device, Eyedrivomatic, for the American Hackaday Prize – a competition to ‘build something that matters’. Joyce’s wife, who has a son, Reuben, 13, from a previous marriage as well as the couple’s children Elliot, eight, and Nancy, six, woke him at 4am to tell him he had won the £132,000 prize. He said the money means the family can afford a bigger home, as the two boys share a bedroom. Joyce added: ‘I wasn’t supposed to live as long as I have, and we hadn’t planned on me still being alive when our kids were teenagers.

‘Moving house should stop the boys from murdering each other, and provide more space for my inventions!’ In 2013 Joyce, from Wells, Somerset, was awarded a BEM for his work raising awareness of MND. His Eyedrivomatic is comprised of parts that can be made using a 3D printer, and its plans are available online as a free download.

What a great invention!

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