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My head controlled computer

Do you want to work with a computer, but you can't use your hands? If you can move your head, well then this page is for you! One this page I'll show how I have access to ordinary software on an ordinary computer. There are other hardware & software options, but this page is about what I use and why.

Having good computer access is extremely important to have, when being almost completely paralyzed. How else can you organize and create?! Try think of something else you could do -without help...

I made a movie, showing how I work on my computer:

Things I do with my computer:
- preventing depression by being active/creative.
- creating: text, photos, 3D models, drawings, movies, websites.
- organizing my care.
- organize my agenda.
- surfing the web.
- shopping online.
- administration.
- communication (dailing telephone nrs, email, skype)
- Watching movies, and listening to music.
Note: I do get a lot of help organizing everything, for especially when I am sick, there is way more that must be done, than I can handle alone. And what can be done by computer is very limited. How to open an envelope for example. Staying alive while being almost completely paralyzed, is like keeping a mid-size company running 24/7 while being sick.

Two, or three head controlled computers.
I need access to a computer 24/7, especially when I am alone.
I need at least two head controlled computers at home: one in my living-room, and one in my bed. A third computer that I need, is a mobile computer on my wheelchair. Though I don't have that yet. Placing a head controlled computer on a wheelchair is complicated, though not impossible. For example: with a screen in front of me, how can I see where I am driving? Or what to do with my arm space (my arms sometimes jump up and down violently).


Step one: Moving the cursor with your head
There are 6 options nowadays:
- dot tracking
- face tracking
- mouth or chin joystick
- eye tracking
- mind control
- laser pointer (on a separate screen)

So; which one is the best?

If you have good control over the movements of your head, then forgot about: eye tracking, mind control, and the laser pointer, because they are: slow, and not precise. These 3 I will therefore not include in the next considerations.

Does the cursor option need software to run? Is a negative, because: it can slow down your computer, the software can crash, and the software can be not compatible with your system (or not -after system update). What options need to run software?:
- dot tracking: some
- face tracking: probably all
- mouth or chin joystick: probably none
If the cursor option only runs software insides itself, stored in ROM memory, then it doesn't need to run software on your computer, and your computer can accept it as an ordinary mouse.

Next thing to think about, is: Do you need to be physically attached to your computer or cursor device? Are you free to drive away from your computer without help?
- dot tracking: some
- face tracking: your are free
- mouth or chin joystick: some

Then: Do you need to wear anything on ya?
- dot tracking: a tiny dot on your head, which looks a bit awkward.
- face tracking: nothing!
- mouth or chin joystick: yes and no, depending on if you want to use it for a mobile computer, where this cursor option seems to be the only option.

And maybe most important: speed and accuracy
- dot tracking: can be very fast and accurate!
- face tracking: is a new development. I think less accurate then the dot.
- mouth or chin joystick: I think slow, but accurate.

I have not compared everything, and what works for me might not be the best option for you. Just be sure to ask the specialist about:
- does it need software to run?
- how fast and accurate is it?
- are you free to drive away from your desktop computer?
- could it work on a computer attached to the wheelchair?
- does it work in low light situations?
- does it work in bed?
- do you need to wear something on your body?

What cursor option works best for me is the Origin HeadMouse.
I started using the Origin HeadMouse in I think 1998. Then came the HeadMouse-Extreme, and now the HeadMouse-Nano. Each better that the previous one, but the original one was really good already. The latest version, the Nano is.. very small and uses very little energy.
Reasons why choose the Origin HeadMouse Nano:
+ very fast and accurate.
+ needs no software to run.
+ the Nano, is very small, and uses very little energy.
+- nothing to place on your head, other than a small dot (sticker).
+ works on Mac and PC

This is a picture of the (old) HeadMouse-Extreme:

And this is the slick new HeadMouse Nano on a laptop (not mine):

How to click the mouse
Pressing a button with your head to click the mouse, is no option, because doing that would be moving your head, which is equal to moving the cursor... And clicking with your whole head would be too slow & heavy anyhow. A good solution is to click by blowing on a straw/tube. An extremely sensitive pneumatic switch, needs only a tiny puff to make an electrical contact.

I don't know what all is on the market, but this is a very good one:
From World Magnetics, the PSF100A pressure sensor
CM-3 pneumatic switch.
Zygo industries inc. Portland Oregon

How to hold the tube in place
A puff-to-switch-tube, must always be within reach of the mouth. This actually is quite a difficult subject, especially the 3 tubes in bed. I use a piece of hydraulic tube (empty, new, clean), the kind that is normally used in excavators and such, because it can be bent in position, and next it stays in that position. Until it wares out, which is after about 2 years.

Here a photo of a little box with 2 pneumatic switches in it:
(the second switch I use environment control, "omgevingsbesturing")

Click and wake up the computer
The HeadMouse extreme can send the pneumatic switch's click to the computer, but not if the computer is asleep! This is because when in sleep, a Mac only listenings to low-power devices. Maybe the HeadMouse Nano can wake the computer up, as it uses less energy. I have not tested that yet. With a "from-switch-to-USB" device it is possible to click ánd wake up the computer from sleep, with for example:
- Swifty
- Mini-SwitchPort

The monitor
The screen resolution can not be very large, the maximum in my case is full HD (1920*1080 at 72dpi), because I position the cursor by bumping against the borders, and because the amount of movement a neck is limited. Important for the in-bed-computer is a screen technology that it has dark blacks, because at night you want a dark screen. I hope that an OLED or Super AMOLED monitor will be available soon. At this moment, an IPS monitor is probably the best option.

Head controlled computer - in my bed!

Having access to a computer in bed is very important to me, for every day and night, and especially for these times when I have to stay in bed for a couple of days or even weeks.

Above my bed, is a self-designed construction that holds a head controlled computer. The only possible position I can be in for a sustained period of time, is laying on my back, pretty much tied down...
As such, there is just one position the computer monitor has to be in. I get in and out bed by mobile elevator. This is possible without hitting the monitor. But for just in case; the monitor can be pushed into an upright position.

The computer has to be a small and silent desktop computer. I am a Mac OS user, so that reduces the options. I used to have the "Cube", a very fine computer (Apple, why was it so expensive, and why did you not continue this beautiful path?) Now I have a Mac mini, which is fine, though not that powerful. One other option of today would be the Mac Pro (the beautiful but expensive old black trash can). Apple, do you realize there has not been an Apple computer since the Cube? Just a good desktop. Not a mini, not an all in one, not a power mac, just a useful computer.

What else is in the box? A lot!
- an Origin HeadMouse
- speakers (computer speakers, include the amplifier)
- a microphone
- external harddisks (backup and system clone)
- usb hub
- IR controlled electricity socket
- a blow to click switch, going to the HeadMouse or USB input.
- and a lot of wires..

The Software

You will need some software to get things running. First of all; a fully-functional on-screen keyboard, as an ordinary keyboard is out of reach. The best on-screen keyboard for Mac is: Keystrokes. Lately (2016) Apple has included an on-screenkeyboard in the system, but I am not impressed, as it lacks important options and comfort, thus will not use that.

How are you going to make telephone calls? There are two ways: call over the internet, "voice over IP", with for example Skye, or use telephone dialing software plus a USB modem, for example Dialectic and the USRobotics 56K USB modem. The latter may sound old-fashioned, but it is more secure. I use both, so if the internet/network is ill again, I can still make a telephone call.

Made by
KeyStrokes is much more than just an on-screen keyboard. The amount of useful options is amazing! Including: advanced word prediction & personal dictionary editor, a dwell-click system, smart transparency, audio feedback, the option to design your own keyboard layout. More and more features continue to be added! On Mac OS X this software simply is the best option.

KeyStrokes isn't cheap, but the software is excellent, with many options, and the amount of users world wide is extremely small (the higher the amount of users, the lower the price can be).

I have a special connection with KeyStrokes, as in 1996 (soon after my spinal cord injury) the first version was specially programmed for me by David Niemeijer! I have been a beta tester since then, plus I made some of the graphics for the AssistiveWare software.

Giesbert Nijhuis

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