Disabled People Driving the Next 10 Years of Computer InnovationS

Quadriplegic sailor Hilary Lister can control her boat using a computer activated by the "sip and puff" interface she has in her mouth. With this rig, she crossed the English channel on her own. Futurist Jamais Cascio, who consults with companies like Mozilla on 10-year innovation plans, told io9 that computers like Lister's designed for the disabled are inspiring new kinds of devices that will be in everyone's homes (or hands) in the next decade.

Disabled users require developers to innovate away from general user interfaces. So you get a computer that recognizes you're there even if you don't touch it, or that can shift from not making sounds to making them as needed [for the blind]. But ordinary consumers want those features too. And so now developers are asking, What if there was a ring or glove that let you write with one finger on the palm of your hand? Your body would become pointer and interface.

Sounds just like Vernor Vinge's latest novel Rainbows End, where everybody types on computers woven into their clothes by moving their bodies sort of twitchily. Cascio is hasty to point out that any body-based interface would have to involve people touching themselves "only in publicly appropriate ways." Image by Odd Andersen via Getty.