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Keyboard offers a new world to many

A revolutionary computer keyboard design should open a world of opportunities for many people with disabilities.

Lomak keyboard
The latest Lomak keyboard design.

Known as Lomak – standing for light operated mouse and keyboard – it is arguably a complete rethink of what a computer keyboard could look like.

Lomak connects to any ordinary desk or laptop computer. It is operated by a pointer device that emits a light beam that activates a series of keys arranged in circular patterns on the keyboard. The keys replicate the computer key and mouse functions. The pointer can either be worn on a person’s head or hand operated.

Lomak International Limited chief executive Chris Mulcare came to Industrial Research as he was having great difficulty dealing with the number of different groups required to complete the project.

He needed someone to move the design to production. Industrial Research’s DeviceWorks business unit proved to have all the experience and expertise needed in one place.

Keyboard inventor, Aucklander Mike Watling, put the original idea together in 1987. He was quite appalled at the limited options available for young disabled people to use to communicate with their teachers.

It has taken around two and a half years of intensive work for production, with DeviceWorks only coming on board in February of this year.

“It’s been tremendous. They’ve been very supportive and had a very disciplined approach, they’re a great team to work with,” Chris Mulcare says.

He sees huge potential in this area with moves to ensure that those with disabilities can have a full and active role in society.

“We think that it’s potentially highly useful for those with carpel tunnel, OOS (Occupational Overuse Syndrome) and age related conditions such as arthritis.

“More has to be done to bridge the gap between disabled and fully abled people to get them into employment and removing the barriers that stop such opportunities.”

The first five units have been completed and another 20 have also been prepared, but at this stage they have not been shipped out. Initial sales have included units to Australia and the United States.

“We’ve had tremendous interest in the market both internationally and within New Zealand… We think that the technology is a world beater,” Chris Mulcare says.

“We’re also proving the model that the best way to commercialise something like this is in a partnership between the private and public sectors.”

Lomak talked to a variety of people in the disability area and worked on the design with Peter Hathornthaite and his business Creative Lab.

DeviceWorks worked on the final software design, writing assembly instructions for manufacture, ensuring quality assurance as well as final development and resolving a number of manufacturing issues.

Auckland University of Technology (AUT) also played a major part in the development of the keyboard. Inventor Mike Watling is still actively involved in the product development and client support, as well as technical support in the field.

“We’re very, very keen to continue to work with DeviceWorks on many of the future product developments that we have in the pipeline,” Chris Mulcare says.

The Lomak keyboard sells for around NZ$2000.

Release Date: 
19 July, 2005