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Light the way ... with virtual control

What do you think?
Bruce Howard
President/CTO, Lightglove
Sudley Springs - VA US

Tell us what you do (or what your team or organization does) and the specific challenge you faced.
After watching his mother suffer through painful carpal tunnel and subsequent surgeries, Bruce Howard, an electrical engineer, decided to tackle the problems associated with human computer interactions. Devices such as the keyboard and mouse were restrictive and could cause long-term injuries. He realized that the placement of an input device was critical and that the most convenient location was close to a personís hands since thatís what they used to enter data. Next he wanted a device that didnít obscure the hand but was still capable of performing the necessary functions. For months he moved his fingers back and forth simulating a typing motion, believing there had to be a way to detect that movement and communicate it back to the computer.

What was your moment of truth?
During his days as an EMI Engineer, he worked with optical isolators and also knew of people creating optical keyboards using beam interruption. In order to interrupt a beam you had to have electronics on both sides so one of the two sensors could tell when it wasnít receiving the beam due to a finger blocking the signal. In order to create a mechanism that did not obstruct the hand (one of his original parameters) he realized that if he made the light detectors sensitive enough, it could sense a finger in mid air and then reflect that signal back. Known as optical reflectance, this would only require electronics on one side. The reason he was so adamant about keeping his hands free is that in addition to an input device, he wanted to use the controller as a guitar special effects transmitter and needed to be able to play the instrument. Knowing that this was a very cool idea, he quit his job and filed for a provisional patent in March of 1997. Unknowing to him, however, was the fact that he had created one of the first virtual controllers.

What were the results?
The initial device was the length of your forearm. Today the Lightglove is as small as a pager, soon to be the size of a watch. One man working long and hard hours in his basement has created a new way to push a button made of light. Recently, a woman with ALS, having only 3/8-inch finger mobility, was able to turn on a light without touching anything. Barely audible, she said, ďNever give up.Ē Surgeons and dentists will be able to input data while remaining sterile. All because one man wouldnít give up and his understanding wife agreed :)

What's your parting tip?
If you have a dream, donít give up. Believe in your soul, you will be the one who breaks through.

What role did technology play in your success? What revolutionary, business transforming thing has your company's technology made possible?

In the process of creating this new technology, both hardware and software were needed. A true renaissance man, Howard not only designed and assembled the hardware (using a stereoscopic microscope) but also programmed every chip and constructed the first Lightglove application program. For hardware this included: pc board layout, board assembly, optics and test. For software: programming using VHDL, Assembler, C++ and becoming a Microsoft Developer to write the application. He did it all. He created a way to control practically everything without touching anything.

Comments that readers have made about this submission:

A quantum leap in human electronics interaction.
Jon Harding - Manassas, VA USA

What a wonderufl device! ANd what wonderful things it will be able to do for people. My hat's off to Mr. Howard!
Cyndi Voller - Coconut Creek, FL USA

I have seen the Lightglove. It is a device that came out before its time. With more and more injury understanding about the hands and wrists this device can help make people more productive again.
A. D. Jordan - Potomac, MD, US

His innovative technology will help many people and I wish him the best!
Terri Taylor - Woodbridge, VA

Mr. Howard seems to be an engineer with not only great technical skills and determination, but one who also has vision .
Deborah Blanchard Bruna - Fairfax, VA, USA

This sounds absolutely amazing. As soon as it goes into production I want one!! Hooray and encouragement to Mr. Howard (and Mrs. Howard, too). DON'T GIVE UP!
Nancy and Stefan Herzog - Taylors, South Carolina, USA

Great Idea, Unlimited potential!!
John Snyder - Arlington VA

Mr. Howard is giving us a glance of how our lives are likely to improve within the near future, with some wonderful applications of technology.
Piero Morosini - Italy

What a magnificent tool for now, and our future. Mr. Howard is without question a "disruptive engineer" and visionary on top of it all. Where can I get one?
C.A. Sorensen - Milpitas, CA

Pushing a button of light is quite a radical idea. For individuals who only believe what they can see and touch, it requires a leap of faith to believe that something can happen when nothing is physically "touched". This idea was not arrived at by committee. It was not a concept created out of unlimited funding and resources. Some day the miraculous story will come out and not only a new technology will be born but a new chapter in vision and faith will have been written.
MG Howard - Sudley Springs, VA USA

Great idea.
Moe Benesch - Springfield, VA USA

Someday I plan on meeting spiritually guided people like Oprah or Paul McCartney and having them as investors. This is the kind of project that will help thousands of people if we are allowed to succeed. Our path has been divinely guided which doesn't mean it's been easy. Just when we were thinking of giving up, something would happen to motivate us forward. Like our entry when Gail Rupertus with ALS said "Never give up." Hard to say no to someone putting up such a courageous battle. Gives you strength to carry on...
MG Howard - Sudley Springs, VA USA

Unbelievable !! I must, once this goes into production and sale, get not only one but several for myself and family members in Singapore !! Great job, Bruce !! I hope your two boys grow up just like dad.
Judy Loh - Singapore

Awesome! What a magnificent techno-tool.
Veronique Holbrook - The Netherlands

Wow! I hope to be just like E.T. with this light source at my fingertip. This is going right to the TOP of my Christmas wish list! Thanks for being true to your dream, Bruce.
S. LeGault - San Jose, CA

Well done! Your invention for the betterment of mankind is remarkable.
Albert CHOW - Singapore

I saw the device at a technology conference and it was hard to believe, but it does work. It frees the hands from a traditional keyboard and allows for the next phase of office efficiency.
David de la Tour - Washington, DC