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October 22nd, 2010
08:18 AM ET

Operate a computer with only your head

A teenager is working on an idea he hopes will help thousands of people with disabilities use computers better.

Gavin Ovsak, 16, designed a circuit board attached to a baseball cap that allows someone who can't move his or her hand well to operate a computer without a mouse. It essentially turns your head into a joystick, he said.

Head movements direct the cursor in the computer screen, and a bite sensor lets a user click on something on the screen. Gavin wrote a computer program that controls this device. He was also featured in this CNN.com story about achievement and motivation.

In the photo above, Gavin, left observes as Jim Kelley, client service specialist at the Courage Center rehabilitation facility in Golden Valley, Minnesota, operates the device. Gavin also had some of the center's clients test the CHAD.

"It was particularly gratifying to see that every individual with a spinal
cord injury who tested my device was able to start controlling a cursor in a remarkably short time," Gavin wrote in his research report about the CHAD.

Between 250,000 and 400,000 Americans live with spinal cord injury or disease, according to the National Spinal Cord Injury Association. Many of them have limited function of their limbs. Condition such as Lou Gerhig's disease, myelitis, and polio may also leave individuals with limited arm muscle function.

Patients with quadriplegia have difficulty accessing computers without the aid of an expensive and complex device, Gavin said. He tried to make the CHAD simpler and more economical than what's currently out there.

One type of device on the market now is a tongue-operated joystick, but this is cumbersome and at least $1,800, he said. Another is an infrared tracker that involves a sticker placed between the user's eyes that moves the mouse around, starting at about $900 - but if you don't move for a while, the computer thinks you are "clicking," which can make reading difficult and distracting. The most sophisticated option right now is the EyeGaze, which begins at around $8,700, and uses a camera array to track eye movement, Gavin said.

The CHAD, on the other hand, would cost about $500 and could be used on any computer, and is able to adapt to any computer almost instantly, he said. For example, a user could take it to the public library, whereas many of the options currently available can be used only on one dedicated computer.

It's more than half the usability of the mouse, but it's still not perfect - Gavin is currently making lots of little improvements to it, and hopes to sell it, at least on a small scale, before he goes to college next year.

Here's more from his website.


soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. kate

    this is awesome, good for that kid!

    October 22, 2010 at 08:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Amyc

    After years of working with special needs kids' i can tell u, this is HUGE! this will help so many people! it's cheap enough that school districts will be able to afford it. good things are coming ur way young man! u will change lives!

    October 22, 2010 at 09:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Pete Norloff

    It's great to see the work that Gavin Ovsak is doing, and many people will surely be able to benefit from his device.

    Working with LC Technologies, Inc., the maker of the Eyegaze Edge device referenced in the article, I need too point out a factual error about the price. We've been producing the Eyegaze Edge for 23 years now, and have struggled to keep reducing the price of the system so that more people can benefit from its unique abilities. In 2008, we reduced the price of a minimal system to $8700, which while expensive, is considerably less than is reported in the article. Pricing information is available on the cited web site at this address: http://www.eyegaze.com/content/components-and-prices-eyegaze-edge

    I don't want to take anything away from Gavin Ovsak's work, and his is an excellent solution for those who can use it. I just want to make sure that an option doesn't get ruled out because of a misunderstanding about the cost.

    October 22, 2010 at 10:04 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Gavin Ovsak

      Hello Mr. Norloff,

      Thank you for your comment. The price I've been quoting for the Eyegaze is $8000. Unfortunately, there was a typo. I hope you have continued success with your product!

      – Gavin O

      October 22, 2010 at 11:32 | Report abuse |
    • elandau

      My sincere apologies for the confusion; I have updated the post to reflect the correct price.

      Regards,
      ERL

      October 23, 2010 at 17:18 | Report abuse |
  4. Kyaru

    Sorry to tell ya kid but its already been done and patented but not advertized big yet because its prototype. Its called the Emotiv and they sell then for.... you heard it $500. My friend got one and I played with it 2 months ago, you train it to read your brainwaves and program it by using your thoughts. example: you record yourself thinking up up up up then set that brainwave pattern to the up key and it works. Look it up on youtube people play first person shooters using it with their minds,it really works.

    I made a hover train using magnets my freshman year of high school and made it to nationals... little did i know maglev trains already existed ):

    October 22, 2010 at 11:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Gavin Ovsak

      It looks like you have misunderstood the function of my device. I do not monitor brainwaves or use any electroencephalography techniques. I researched those and found noninvasive brain recording to have extremely varied results. To clarify, my device measures small muscle movement.

      I made this project because I saw a need in my community and I thought I could help. A variety of assistive technology interface devices will be able to help a variety of different needs.

      Best Regards,
      Gavin Ovsak

      October 22, 2010 at 11:45 | Report abuse |
    • Kyaru

      ah ok I get ya and congratulations on making it all the way up there and I commend you on your hardwork and research. Look into the Emotiv though.. I remember the mouse moved wherever my eyes did and clicked when I thought it. It really blew my mind.

      Keep working hard and learning, I believe in your good intentions and in your ability to become successful. I am sorry if I came off offenseful in anyway, I also tend to troll on the internet a lot. But sure is nice seeing a science expiriment again I had alot of fun in tech club in high school, and people were impressed by my hover train that hovered in a tube and moved using engine propellers. I ended up losing in nationals because if you made it to scale in real life it would have been too heavy. Currenty I am a Sophomore at college and I am in the military. Trying to be a video game designer and concept artist.

      Good luck to you! – Carlos Vega

      October 22, 2010 at 14:10 | Report abuse |
  5. Terry W. Brookman

    Nice thought but Atari already did this for the military and it works by picking up brain waves( electrical activity ) in the human brain. After training the software I saw could turn a a machine up, down, left and right by thinking and that was fifteen years ago.

    October 23, 2010 at 02:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • 210

      did you even read the whole article? this thing DOESN'T use brainwaves. stop talking crap about this kid. his invention is greater than you entire life's accomplishments, COMBINED. good job gavin!

      October 24, 2010 at 19:13 | Report abuse |
  6. Terry W. Brookman

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kl43TEFb91A Russian version

    October 23, 2010 at 02:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Brett

    Mind technology inc did this this stock sybo jedm thanks

    October 23, 2010 at 05:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Constantine

    Cool - very sci fi!

    October 23, 2010 at 10:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. IonEyes

    There's actually a cheap little device that you can build yourself in an article in MaximumPC. It uses infrared LEDs and a webcam. Take a look on their site for details.

    Granted, it's not that sophisticated but offers another option for those without a lot of money or even for those weekend hackers.

    October 23, 2010 at 13:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Moris

    It looks like you have misunderstood the function of my device. I do not monitor brainwaves or use any electroencephalography techniques. http://www.hhjewelry.co.il I researched those and found noninvasive brain recording to have extremely varied results. To clarify, my device measures small muscle movement

    October 23, 2010 at 16:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. V Saxena

    I'm not gay or anything, BUT I LOVE YOU DUDE! You're awesome!

    October 24, 2010 at 03:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Steve M.

      You're NOT, huh? Then why start out with the disclaimer? I just read an article yesterday that found that people who start out comments with disclaimers actually draw attention to their denials as hidden truth. Hmmmm!

      October 24, 2010 at 17:53 | Report abuse |
    • 210

      Steve M, STFU. you're probably watching gay porn right now you f@g. leave people alone, god dam. and who cares about that stupid article, i saw a video on youtube saying that the US govt was the mastermind behind 9-11. just because it's on the internet doesnt mean it's true. screw you and your article, AND your stupid comment.

      October 24, 2010 at 19:18 | Report abuse |
  12. Joe

    You've done a good job, Gavin Ovsak. You may want to find a venture capitalist to fund or purchase your idea. This may be the start of something big. God bless you.

    October 24, 2010 at 15:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Steve M.

    Another attack of the most irritating writing error. Reading along, and all of a sudden an abbreviation smacks you right between the eyes. (Re: CHAD). Stopping....puzzled...you think, "Wait a minute. What is THAT? Did I miss something?" And so you backtrack from the beginning of the article to find out the meaning of the abbreviation. Results? Yep...you were right. It never WAS explained. Then, upon reading through the rest of the article, the abbreviation repeatedly rears its ugly head, and....you guessed it....the article ends with NO explanation of what it means.

    October 24, 2010 at 17:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • 210

      dude, you are such a fking moron. look at the link, highlighted in blue, and titled "this CNN.com story about achievement and motivation." The kid was ALREADY featured, BEFORE this article, at it tells you EXACTLY what CHAD stands for. if you would have taken 1 second to get off your high-horse, and stop criticizing everyone, and actually use your fking brain, you might have noticed that it did in fact explain what it stood for. "Circuit-Hat Accessibility Device"

      October 24, 2010 at 19:22 | Report abuse |
  14. Jon

    Ooh, neat. Not quite as cool as biofeedback control – but probably a lot more cost-effective. Good on him!

    October 24, 2010 at 22:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Ted

    , FOR ONE AM COMPLETELY FED UP WITH ALL THE MUD SLINGING AND DIRT DIGGING
    INSTEAD OF BROWN'S DIRT DETECTIVES...MILLER"S ATTACKED BY THIS SORE LOSER....THEY ( DEMS) CERTAINLY WON'T GET MY VOTE. ALL THEY HAVE ARE CATASTROPIC OBAMA PROGRAMS AND DIRT AND MUD...A JFK DEMOCRAT....I PLAN TO VOTE REPUBLICAN ALL THE WAY...

    October 24, 2010 at 22:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. mmi16

    Ted – what does your statement have to do with this project?

    October 25, 2010 at 05:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Shu

    This is really a big big idea, CONGRADULATION! Be a sucessful job. Make it cheap by the way.

    October 25, 2010 at 06:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Network

    I was wondering when someone would put something like this together. Good work Gavin.

    October 25, 2010 at 09:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Danni Gilad

    Its really interesting. I do not believe that people will use the application on a daily basis, at least the broad commercial market. However, I have no doubt that many people and limited mobility will be very happy about the new innovation to help them be more involved in the Internet world. You can be anywhere in the world without leaving the chair, and now it's really like that. Waiting for the day come it will be possible to choose engagement rings and jewelry for women the same way.
    for more info log to to טבעות אירוסין

    November 18, 2010 at 06:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Anonymous

    http://code.google.com/p/air-mouse/
    Similiar, eh.

    April 10, 2011 at 19:09 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.