Paralyzed Artist Relies on Open Source Device for Drawing

by Ostatic Staff - Mar. 30, 2010

Even though Los Angeles-based graffiti artist Tony Quan's body has been ravaged by Lou Gehrig's disease, his mind is as sharp as ever. Unable to move anything but his eyes, he nearly had to give up his love of creating art until a group of hackers stepped in with an alternative. They designed Quan an open source eye tracking device that allows him to continue creating his artwork using nothing but the muscles in his eyes.

The device, called the EyeWriter, is made from a pair of sunglasses, a Web cam, and a tiny camera. Software created by the team tracks Quan's eye movements and translates it into data that lets him draw shapes, letters and words. One of the most amazing parts of this project is that while similar commercial devices sell for as much as $15,000, the EyeWriter can be assembled for around $50.

Complete plans on how to build your own EyeWriter, including a PDF file set of instructions and video tutorials, can be found on the project's Web site. As anyone familiar with a paralyzing illness can attest, the loss of freedom can often be more debilitating than the disease itself. The EyeWriter team is to be commended for developing such important technology, then giving it away for free. It's open source community spirit at its finest.

Zach Lieberman of the Graffiti Research Lab told National Public Radio (NPR) his interest in the project is purely altruistic. "There are people who have loved ones who have ALS or locked-in syndrome ... or other diseases, where having that option, at least, of a kind of device that you can build for somebody in need is really important and really necessary. We're not in it to make money. This is really coming from the heart."

Image courtesy of