Last week I was privileged enough to speak at the Open Hardware Summit. It was a wonderful experience, and I hope to return again in the years to come.
During my time making cool projects for Hackaday, I regularly experienced that fantastic feeling that came with the realization that people really enjoyed the things I made. I had a few that turned out to be fairly popular. This Portal Gun that levitates a companion cube, for example, has more than 1.6 million views. The Thor's Hammer with embedded Tesla coil showed up on TV screens in subways in China.
Even though I felt really good about them, there are other projects that feel even better. Those projects are simple gaming controllers for people who have physical disabilities that make it difficult for them to operate standard, off-the-shelf controllers.
When I say that these projects make me feel good, I don't necessarily mean it in the altruistic sense as one might assume. Sure, it feels good to help someone else, but what I'm really feeling is empowerment. I'll get back to that empowerment later on, but lets just take a few seconds to first look at some examples of open-source interfaces helping people with physical disabilities.
Cheap direct replacements
Often, the cost for an interface is prohibitively high. Open-source hardware allows us to make some direct replacements that are much cheaper. Considering that insurance often does not cover things like computer interfaces, this can make a huge difference in the life of a user.
Take for example, this mouse button emulator:
It costs $129 and it emulates a mouse click. That is literally all it does. However, if you are capable of soldering two wires and copy/pasting some code, you could build your own open-source version with a considerable cost savings. Not to mention you can design it to actually emulate several mouse clicks as well as keyboard button presses if you wish.
Another example is vision tracking. Eye tracking systems that use a camera to detect where you are looking typically cost more than $7,000. One group of hackers figured out how to create a system with a web camera and some blinking IR LEDs, bringing the cost down to roughly $100. Not only that, but they've shared the plans so anyone can replicate it. You can find more information at Eyewriter.org. I have been told that some of the code is out of date, and someone else is attempting to revise and update the project.
Image courtesy of Eyewriter.org
Keep reading to see what I really mean by "Copy and Paste Empowerment"...