1 Blink = Yes: Creating An Eye Controlled DJ Setup In Ableton Live w/ Jon Margulies

After being diagnosed with the nervous system disorder ALS in 2010, David Anderson worried that he wouldn’t be able to DJ anymore. However he didn’t want to let his condition stop him from participating in music and he began work on a collaborative technology project that will help him communicate more efficiently and even DJ once again, using only his eye movements to control his computer. 1 Blink = Yes aims to get David back on stage for a New Year’s Eve DJ gig on December 31, 2012.

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In the summer of 2010, computer programmer, musician and DJ David Anderson was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS. It is a debilitating disease characterized by rapidly progressing weakness, muscle atrophy and difficulty with basic motor skills like speaking, swallowing and breathing. As a lifelong champion of interface design and computers, Anderson started to develop an idea of how to use modern technology to overcome some of the limitations that ALS had put on his ability to create and play music, and together with software engineer/project manager Harley Sitner he began to put together a team of hardware/software experts who could make his idea reality.

1 Blink = Yes is the result, a crowdsourced project that aims to get Anderson back to creating music by enabling him to control Ableton Live with his eye movements. The project has earned $31,000 on Kickstarter, and the team is aiming for $40,000 to complete the project by the end of the year in an effort to get David on stage for a New Year’s Eve gig in Minneapolis, MN.

The idea for this project came when Anderson realized that recent advances in mobile computing provide new options for interface design and control. “The world of software usability has upleveled so dramatically with the advent of iOS, Android and Windows 8 that many of the accessibility issues are addressed natively by these modern operating systems,” Anderson explains in the above video. “The hardware platforms are much easier to work with and are significantly lighter but have plenty of horsepower. Add to this the low cost and it is obvious that the accessibility world has fallen behind. I was DJing with an iPad before I lost the ability to use my arms. My iPad had all but replaced my laptop.”

To create a new DJ interface for Anderson, Dubspot instructor and well-known Ableton guru Jon Margulies has been working with Ableton and Max for Live. “David was my first programming teacher,” explains Margulies. “He’s also the person who taught me how to teach people software. Due to his mentoring me, I was able to move into some very high-level work in the database field, including teaching seminars like the one I met him at. So he’s very much part of the lineage that leads to me becoming an Ableton teacher.”

Of course once the team is successful developing the technology that will allow David to control the computer with eye movements, it will be useful for much more than DJing. Project manager Sitner adds that “the project has several phases, the first of which is enabling the very complex use case of DJing with his eyes. From there we hope to generalize out the technology to simpler things such as Twitter/Facebook/Gmail etc. integrations. It’s a bit odd to go from the complex to the simpler, but we like it that way.”

1 Blink = Yes is still pushing to raise $40,000 by the end of the year in order to get David Anderson back on stage to DJ. If you’re interested in donating to the cause, please check out the www.1blinkequalsyes.org website to learn more about ALS, David Anderson, and how this unique project aims to give music back to people who have been separated from this art form.

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