New Technology (That’s Worth Checking Out!)

Recently I’ve just started playing around with two new toys. One is a device called the Emotiv Insight (which I backed as a Kickstarter) and the second is a cheap, mini computer called a Raspberry Pi.

The Emotiv Insight
This is a fancy smancy brain monitor device, that can also track head movements and has a lot of potential (but not a whole lot of application at the moment!) The Emotiv is a second generation device following the Epoch (which although it is more sensitive, having more points of contact with your brain, isn’t as portable or connectable than the newer model).  At the moment, my exploration with the Emotiv hasn’t gone much past using the iPhone app which allows you to get a baseline reading of your brain waves and map out what parts of your brain are being used the most doing specific activities (like writing and surfing the net). Given a bit of time and effort on my part though, by using a piece of open source software, it is possible to map thoughts like ‘move forward’ and ‘move backwards’ to allow you to control technology such as turning on lights or flying a drone. Exciting!

Emotiv Insight
Emotiv Insight

The Raspberry Pi 3b
Is, essentially a small, cheap, computer, with Bluetooth, wi-fi, 4 USB ports and 1gb of ram. It runs off an mini SD card (and is supported by Linux software that allows it to be customisable and the ‘brain’ of things like home automation projects. Retailing for about $60, I’ve been able to load Retro games on it, and am mucking around with a Home Media player called KODI at the moment. It’s the application of it for home automation (or trying to make my home as ‘smart’ as possible) that is my ultimate goal for my Raspberry Pi though! Fortunately I find this kind of thing fun, so ultimately, with a fair bit of mucking around, I will be able to control my lights, tv, air conditioning unit and maybe even my door locks, all from my phone!

Raspberry Pi 3b
Raspberry Pi 3b

… who knows, with the aid of my Emotiv Insight, I might even be able to do it all with just my mind! 🙂


Voice Control – The future is (almost) here!

As a kid, I was enamoured with Science Fiction programs like Star Trek where computers were smart, willing collaborators with humanity in the pursuit of knowledge (or whatever alien race Captain Kirk or Commander Riker just happened to be interested in romantically!). Although a touch interface was always available to control the amazing technology, the promise of a fully immersive voice interface was a reality as well, and it perfectly complemented the more ‘hands on’ experience. This voice interface made possible the ‘universal translator’, that removed the barrier of language and normalised being able to tell the computer to “replicate” a “Tea, Earl Grey” out of seeming thin air. In short, this technology was no less magical than seeing Harry Potter wandering the halls of Hogswarts. The Star Trek ‘vision’ of the future was, I suspect, a very real inspiration for the thousands of people that have worked on text to voice and voice control technology over the years. So where are we at right now in making this fiction into a reality?

Speech to text software, like Dragon Dictate and assistant programs, like Siri (for Apple devices) and Google Assistant (for Android devices), have come a long way in the last 20 years. I remember a friend who received an early version of Dragon for Christmas and spent many hours reading into it to train it to understand her voice. This same process now takes about 5 minutes (and no time at all for Mobile Assistance programs). We are very close to having commercially available voice translation software, that over time, will rival Star Trek’s ‘Universal Translator’. The voice control functions on our mobile devices are getting smarter and smarter allowing us to write emails and texts, play music, set our alarms or ring / video chat with people without ever touching our phone or tablet!

There are quite a few limitations which do exist with the technology at present however. A pet peeve of mine is that the technology isn’t as interactive as I often would wish it to be, meaning I’ve got to unlock the phone and fiddle around with it to do what I want. There are limited pathways for voice recognition to work with, and it is impossible to do anything outside this limited design. For example, on an iPhone I can ask Siri to play a song for me, however I cannot do the same for video. This frustration however will, hopefully, only be temporary, as each version of iOS (the operating system used on Apple devices) expands the actions and interactions that are possible using Siri’s voice control.

This expansion of what, and how, voice control can be used can sometimes be surprising. I, before it was released in the ‘Home’ app on iOS, would not have ever thought of being able to control my lighting system with simple voice commands. Now that this technology has been invented, and I’ve bought a Hue Lighting hub and globes, I use it every day, and miss it when it isn’t available! Who know’s what will become indispensable tech in my future, and how science fiction will inspire future science fact? … It could be Flying Wheelchairs, Robots, Jet packs, 3D printing replicators… Whatever comes, I am certain that being able to control these devices by simply talking to them through an immersive voice interface, will be part of this future as well.

Bring it on!

For more information about Dragon Dictate check out this Wikipedia article, with links to the official site for the software:

For more information about voice control on Apple devices, check out the official Apple page:

For more information about Google Assistant, check out the official  Google page:

The iPad Pro

Having recently purchased a 9.7 inch iPad Pro (which is the smaller of the two iPad Pro’s) on a plan with my phone carrier, I have been busy putting it through it’s paces. The justification for the word ‘Pro’ lies in it’s excellent A9X chip, 12 megapixel camera, enhanced speakers and Touch ID finger print scanning (which adds heaps of convenience when used instead of a password). The iPad Pro is also the first iPad that has allowed me to use all of the multitasking options available on the iPad. I’m loving the split screen mode (where I can also watch a movie!).

The added menu that pops up on the screen when you have the Apple keyboard attached is also really handy, with easy access to word predication, formatting buttons, camera and drawing functions.

Speaking of drawing, the Apple Pencil (which, like the keyboard is an added cost) is a beautiful stylus, drawing implement (which, if I’m honest, my artistic talent is not doing anything close to justice!)

Without doubt the iPad Pro is the best tablet that I’ve ever used. That said, it’s not cheap, and what you plan to use it for will dictate if the ‘Pro’ features are worth the money.

Apples New Accessibility Website

This website is essentially an advertisement for how Apple is endeavouring to integrate accessibility into all it’s products. It does a good job giving an overview of what is possible with each device out of their box. Whether it be an Apple watch, Mac, iPad or iPhone, there are excellent solutions for many people if you know they are there, how to turn them on how they work. To work this out often takes time and the desire to muck around with settings, so it’s good to have a handy starting point for people just starting out (with a few glossy videos to wet your appetite!) This is definitely worth a look if have an Apple device already or are looking into whether or not it would suit you.


Real spinal repair progress

Head transplant team’s new animal tests fail to convince critics

Exclusive video shows a dog reportedly recovering the ability to walk after an injection into its damaged spinal cord, but the study has been criticised

X-ray of a broken neck

Head transplants could bring hope for those with broken necks

Science Photo Library

By Helen Thomson

Video footage seen by New Scientist appears to show a dog walking three weeks after its spinal cord was almost completely severed. Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero says the technique used to treat the dog will make a human head transplant possible next year.

Canavero came to fame in 2015, when he claimed that the major hurdles to completing a head transplant are now surmountable. The idea is that someone paralysed from the neck down, for example, could have their head connected to the body of someone who is brain dead, restoring their ability to move (see box, below).

However, papers published today detailing the spinal cord repair technique applied to the dog have prompted other scientists to express concerns over the work. “These papers do not support moving forward in humans,” says Jerry Silver, a neuroscientist at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.
To fuse two ends of a spinal cord – either in someone who has broken their spine or to connect a transplanted head to a donor body – the ends of thousands of neurons need to meet across the join. Bunched together like strands of spaghetti, if these neurons don’t touch, they will grow past each other and never form the electricity-conducting pathways that send nerve impulses through the body.

Sergio Canavero

Sergio Canavero

Gughi Fassino/LUZphoto/Eyevine

In a series of three papers, all co-edited by Canavero for the journal Surgical Neurology International, researchers in South Korea and the US claim that a chemical called polyethylene glycol, or PEG, may help reconnect a severed spinal cord.

C-Yoon Kim at Konkuk University in Seoul and his team – who have been working closely with Canavero – severed the spinal cord of 16 mice. They then injected PEG into the gap between the cut ends of the spinal cord in half of the mice, while the rest were injected with saline. After four weeks, they report that five of the eight mice in the PEG group had regained some ability to move, compared with none of the control group. The other three PEG-treated mice died, as did all those in the control group.

Graphene scaffold

Meanwhile, a team at Rice University in Houston, Texas, has been working to develop a better version of PEG. Hearing about Canavero’s plans to use the solution in a human head transplant, the team believed it could improve it by adding graphene nanoribbons – an electrically conductive material that acts as a scaffold that neurons can grow along.

“My motivation is spinal cord repair. If this works, it’s going to have huge ramifications for spinal injuries,” says James Tour, who is part of the Rice team. “But we thought, if you’re going to be working towards a head transplant, you’re going to need this, so let us help you.”

“Read more: 6 things you’re dying to ask about head transplants”

PEG encourages the fat in cell membranes to mesh, bringing cells together – a process that may be enhanced by the nanoribbons, which are thought to provide scaffolding that encourages neurons to grow towards each other and connect. Tour says they do this in two ways: they are able to conduct electrical current, which helps neurons grow, and neurons seem to preferentially grow along this scaffolding, which helps them to meet and fuse together.

The South Korean team have nicknamed Tour’s enhanced solution Texas-PEG, and injected it into five rats’ spinal cords immediately after they had been severed. Five control rats were given saline instead.

Recovering movement

The following day, the team stimulated the rats’ spinal cords to see if any electrical activity could pass along it. According to the team’s paper, a small amount of electrical signals were present in the Texas-PEG group, but completely absent in the controls.

The group state that a flood in the lab subsequently killed four of the five rats that had been treated with Texas-PEG. Two days after surgery, the remaining rat is reported to have shown slight voluntary movement in all four paws, and a week later it was able to stand, but had difficulty balancing. After two weeks, the team says the rat could walk, stand up on his hind limbs and feed itself. “No recovery was observed in the controls,” says Kim.

In a final experiment, the South Korean team tested the original PEG in a dog immediately after it was given a near-complete cervical (neck) spinal lesion. Visual inspection suggested more than 90 per cent of its spinal cord had been severed – similar to what is seen in people who receive stab wounds to the spinal cord.

The following day, the dog was completely paralysed, but after three days, the team reports minimal movement in all four limbs. After two weeks, the dog was able to drag its hind limbs by its torso and forelimbs, and during the third week, it was able to walk. The team claims that the dog began to grab objects, wag its tail and resume a normal life. There was no control in the experiment.

Not ready for humans

New Scientist contacted more than 10 experts about these studies and the videos, but most were unwilling to comment publicly on the research.

Those who have commented say they have serious concerns about the reported results. “The dog is a case report, and you can’t learn very much from a single animal without controls,” says Silver. “They claim they cut the cervical cord 90 per cent but there’s no evidence of that in the paper, just some crude pictures.”

“Read more: First human head transplant could happen in two years”

Silver would prefer to see histology – microscopic tissue analysis – to confirm the dog’s spinal cord really was severely damaged before it recovered. As for the Texas-PEG paper, he says there is too little data. “You don’t report that four of your five treated animals drowned. You start again and increase your sample size,” says Silver.

Kim emphasises that his team’s experiments were proof of principle case studies, but says that “when combined, [they] confirm that a severed cord can be reconstructed”. The teams says its next paper will provide histological evidence confirming how damaged the animals’ spines were.

As for Canavero’s goal to conduct the first human head transplant soon, medical ethicist Arthur Caplan at New York University says the latest studies suggest this procedure is still some years away. “This work would put them about three or four years from repairing a spinal cord in humans,” he says. “It would put them maybe seven or eight from trying anything like a head transplant.”
How to transplant a head

Sergio Canavero first proposed attempting a human head transplant in 2013. He wants to use the surgery to extend the lives of people whose muscles and nerves have degenerated or whose organs are riddled with cancer. But there are many hurdles, such as fusing the spinal cord (see main story) and preventing the body’s immune system from rejecting the head.

The procedure will involve cooling both the head and the body it is to be moved to, to extend the time their cells can survive without oxygen. The tissue around the neck would then be dissected and the major blood vessels linked using tiny tubes, before the spinal cords of each person are cut.

The head would then be moved onto the donor body, and the ends of their spinal cords fused together using PEG. Next, the muscles and blood supply would be sutured. The recipient would be kept in a coma for three or four weeks to prevent movement. Implanted electrodes would be used to provide regular electrical stimulation to the spinal cord, because research suggests this can strengthen new nerve connections.

Canavero still thinks it could be possible to perform the first human head transplant by the end of 2017, depending upon finding a suitable donor. Several people have said they would like to volunteer to have their heads attached to a different body, while a hospital in Vietnam is reportedly keen to host the first surgery.

Easystand Evolv Standing Frame

Has anyone used the EasyStand? I am hoping for some feedback. Some details of what I am talking about below –

The Easystand Evolv is the next generation in sit to stand technology, designed to meet the needs of a variety of people. The natural sit to stand transition allows the user to stop at any position, for clients who have limited range of motion. Tool free adjustments make the Easystand Evolv ideal for multi-use settings. Precise user positioning was achieved by relocating the pivot point of the stander to mimic the body’s natural pivot point, minimizing shear and maximizing function. The Easystand Evolve is now the most modular stander to date; such configurations as the “active standing” Glider and shadow support tray can be added at any time. The open base and wider seat allow for easier transfers, both independent or with the use of a hoist.

The Easystand Evolv range of standing frames have been developed with a focus on positioning, modularity and growth.  The EasyStand Evolv is available in three different sizes and offers a range of options for active and involved users.

Evolv Youth Stander:
This standing frame suits individuals from 4’0″-5’6″ (122 cm – 167 cm) and up to 200 lbs (91 kg).

Evolv Adult Stander:
This standing frame fits individuals from 5’0-6’2” ( 152 cm –  188 cm) and up to 280 lbs (127 kg).

Evolv XT Stander:
This standing frame fits individuals from 6’0″-6’10” (183 cm – 208 cm)  and up to 350 lbs (158 kg).

A Standing Frame for Precision Positioning
The optimal standing position has been refined in the EasyStand Evolv standing frame.  By locating the pivot points of the standing frame to imitate the body’s pivot points, options like the hip supports, lateral supports, and head support can remain in place from sitting to standing, minimising shear.  When positioned correctly, the Evolv’s contoured seating provides a maximum over-centre stretch to allow for different body types.  The Evolv also allows for hip and knee contractures through correct positioning of the footplates and independent kneepad option.

A Standing Frame Designed for Modularity & Growth
To date, the EasyStand Evolv is the most modular, allowing for more than 50 options and configurations such as the Mobile or the Shadow Tray to be added at any time.  The Evolv standing frame is highly adjustable for multi-user settings or to accommodate growing teens.  When a child grows out of the Evolv Youth Stander, a Growth Kit can be purchased to convert it into an Evolv Adult Stander.

A Standing Frame Designed for Accessibility & Independence
The Evolv has an open base that allows for easier independent transfers into and out of the equipment.  A bigger transfer seat or a rotating seat are also available.  To make standing pivot or lift assist transfers easier, an optional swing away front or removable back can also be added to gain even better seat access.  The user can independently achieve the standing position with the manual hydraulic actuator or optional push-button Pow’r Up Lift.

A Standing frame Designed for Safety & Convenience
The Evolv standing frame provides a supportive and safe transition to a standing position.  It allows the user to stand in three easy steps – adjust, transfer, and pump up.  Both carers and users are more comfortable with the Evolv because of the safe and easy lateral transfer and supportive transition to standing.

A Standing Frame Designed for Increasing Standing Compliance
There are a number of thorough research studies confirming the benefits of passive standing programs for an individual’s long-term health.  The EasyStand Evolv stander allows the user to move in and out of standing without having to be lifted or transferred.  This makes it easier to be compliant with a standing program by standing in small bursts and yet still stand for the 120 minutes needed to affect bone density and maximise other health benefits.


Height Range

5’0” – 6’2”


Weight Limit



Seat Depth Range

16” – 21”

41 – 53cm

Seat to footplate range

16” – 21”

41 – 53cm

Seat height from floor



Weight of basic unit



Desk table size

21” x 24”

53 x 61cm

Base Dimensions

24” x 33”

61 x 84cm

Easystand Evolv Features



Is Switch Control for you?

Switch control on Apple devices (or ‘Switch Access’ as it is called on Android Devices) is a way to use Bluetooth switches (ie. large buttons connected to your device) to control your iPad, iPhone or Android device. Over the last few years, this has been built into iOS and Android, and allows the user to control their device from the use of a single button. At present, it is probably fair to say that the iOS setup is more mature than that on Android, however, hopefully in time this will improve.  Below are some useful web links and YouTube videos to look at while evaluating if this accessibility solution is right for you.

First up are the official summaries of how these settings work in both IOS and Android devices: Apple summary (iPhone/iPad)

Google Switch Access Summary (Android Phones or Tablets)

Here are two examples from YouTube, of people showing how they use their switches to control their devices.

Christopher Hill (Apple)

Colin McDonnel (Android)

Here is an example of a great Bluetooth Switch that is designed especially for iOS devices (although any Bluetooth switch will work with either iOS or Android devices).

There is definitely a learning curve involved in using Switches with your phone or tablet, however once you get the hang of it, the freedom to use your device at a deeper level than before is often worth it.

“Legacy” Documentary just released – A Ride To Conquer Motor Neurone Disease


Ian Davis and Scott Sullivan have been diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease) a neurodegenerative disease that destroys your motor neurons, paralysing the body until you eventually suffocate. The hardest part about this disease is that the brain remains completely functional, so sufferers are completely aware of what is happening, all they can do is watch.

But Ian and Scott are standing up and making a difference. They plan to ride One Million Metres for MND (Brisbane to Sydney) on a custom made tandem recumbent bicycle with and arm crank because Ian’s legs are failing and a leg crank because Scott’s arms have grown weak. The film Legacy will showcase this extraordinary story of courage and the enduring spirit.

Note: If you would like to organise a showing of this film go to



Apple Pay

Having used Apple Pay for the last week, I thought it was worth sharing a few observations.

  • Apple Pay is only available for use with an American Express card or ANZ debit Visa card in Australia. It requires an iPhone 6 phone or newer and the Apple Watch is a useful companion device. Apple Pay will work with any Tap and Pay, (or Pay Wave) enabled payment devices.
  • The setup proved easy (once I had set up the right ANZ account) The Wallet App allows you to scan your credit card before adding in your cards security number. It is necessary to go through a similar process on the watch. Both devices have a chip inside which stores the card information securely allowing transactions via a token.
  • To activate Apple Pay on the phone it is a simple double press on the home button from the lock screen followed by a finger print scan (on the home button) when the transaction has been set up by the teller.
  • To active the Apple Pay on the watch a simple double tap in the flat button adjacent to the crown. At this point you can pay by moving watch face over tap and pay point. It is possible to use Siri to open Apple Pay using the ‘Hey Siri’ verbal command and then use the fingerprint scan to pay. This is probably the quickest way to pay with minimal physical effort. The Apple watch activation is easier if you are able to double tap the button without difficulty.

I have enjoyed using Apple Pay and definitely recommend trying it out if you have an iPhone 6 or later and an AmEx or ANZ Visa Card.