Queenslander Peter Ford was the first co-anchor of Sunrise at the Seven Network with Chris Bath back in 1996, and enjoyed a long career at US networks NBC and CNN.
But in his spare time he was a computer programmer and has developed a revolutionary device that lets sufferers of motor neurone disease, locked in syndrome, spinal injuries and other disabling conditions operate computers.
Since 2005, his company, Control Bionics, has developed NeuroSwitch which picks up electrical signals inside a muscle in severely disabled people and uses them to generate text and digitise speech, control emails, internet trafﬁc, games and remote systems, including telepresence robots.
Ford’s NeuroSwitch can work on Apple devices, meaning paralysed people can operate iPads — just by thinking about it. Yesterday he said this was a step on the way to mankind becoming part of the machine world.
“Anything that a human can control with a keyboard and a mouse we can control with our neural systems.
The system, which costs $US17,450 ($22,494) has helped people with severe disabilities in Australia, New Zealand, the US, Britain and Europe.
Apple has perfected software called Switch Control that lets disabled users control an iOS device using a switch, which typically scans items on an iPhone or iPad display one at a time until a user triggers a switch to make a menu selection.
It now seems the two systems, Ford’s NeuroSwitch and Apple’s Switch Control, can be married. The neuroelectric signal generated by an MND sufferer who thinks about moving a body part can be detected and fed to Apple’s Switch Control, which then interprets it as device input.
To operate iPhones and iPads by thinking about moving a muscle, even if it is non-functioning, may look an awful lot like telekinesis — manipulating objects using mind power.
This month Control Bionics released a NeuroSwitch interface for Switch Control on Mac. Next month a similar version is expected for the iPhone and iPad.