The LOMAK connects to an ordinary desktop or laptop computer and is used to assist tetraplegics to communicate by mounting a light on their forehead that they can then direct the light beam to the appropriate key on the keypad.
The user simply points at a letter on the keyboard and then to a central confirm key to input a keystroke. Greater than 20 words per minute is possible compared with 2-8wpm, the rate with current technology.
It has enormous potential for disabled people who are unable to use a conventional keyboard.
LOMAK was invented by New Zealander Mike Watling with initial development undertaken at Auckland University of Technology. After a further two years of design and development, and product design by Creativelab Limited, the design practice of Peter Haythornthwaite, it is now being launched by the New Zealand company LOMAK International.
Mark Bagshaw chairman of the Australian Federal Government’s new Employment Roundtable and co-chairman of the Australian Disability Training Advisory Council, who has been consulted on the development of LOMAK, says it is “a brilliant innovation and revolutionary breakthrough in both design and technology for the disabled.
“One of my missions is to wake up business to the responsibility and opportunity of engaging people with disabilities as employees and customers.
“However, for this to happen we need affordable and accessible technology. That is why LOMAK is so important and timely."
LOMAK’s CEO, Chris Mulcare said: "We believe we have a product that has global potential in this market. It is unique. Nothing compares with LOMAK in terms of its ease and speed of performance. We know it can significantly improve people’s lives.”
LOMAK’s global potential is underscored by the fact that there are up to a billion people worldwide with disabilities. The cost of keeping these people on welfare in the developed world is hundreds of billions of dollars a year.
Availability of affordable, useful technologies such as LOMAK is seen as a critical step towards providing these people with opportunities to earn salaries and wages in rewarding jobs and add value to their lives.
LOMAK has been enthusiastically received by Ministry of Health agencies and the end-users who have been involved in the research and development of the product.
Permark Industries Managing Director David Jack said it was a delight to be involved in a product development that would advance the life quality of many people in an ongoing way.
“This was one of the most demanding jobs we have ever had. Research and development is not an area where you can drop a job in and expect it to be ready at a given time. This required a lot of work but we had a customer who had faith in our ability to convert their concept into reality.”
Mr Jack paid tribute to the backroom people who had made the job happen – “I have never had my hands on a printing press. The reason I can stand here tonight is because of the customers who challenged us, and the staff and suppliers who rose to the challenge.”
Expert Pride In Print judge Ross Clarke of Universal Screen in Auckland said the special merits of the keyboard were many and complex, with challenges involving not just its preparation and printing, but also its functionality.
“Preparation and printing posed problems in all the normal ways, such as registration, stencil sharpness and colour variation, but this panel was perfect in every way especially considering it was printed on a single-colour machine with 13 passes.
“Printing round images within a round border and maintaining perfect dimensions across a panel of this size would have been challenging.”
Mr Clarke says ensuring the correct functionality in the end product was governed by international standards.
“All transparent colours must receive and allow light to pass through at the correct level, measured and controlled by the Lees filter standard. The screen-printing process had to have strict parameters with ink mixing, mesh selection and printing press setup.
“The transparent colours are clean and fault free.”
This is the second year in a row that screen printing has won the Supreme Award, but Mr Clarke says what is good about this year is that it’s a totally different sector of the screen print industry.
“Last year graphics (poster) won the Supreme Award and this year it’s industrial (keypad). Two years in a row shows off our industry very well.”