MINNEAPOLIS - David Anderson was right where he belonged on New Year's Eve: at the front of the dance floor, surrounded by his friends, disc jockeying the music. But it's how Anderson was mixing the sound that made the evening extraordinary.
Anderson has ALS. In the two years since his diagnosis, he has lost the ability to swallow or talk. His hands and fingers now rest motionless on cushions in front of him. His feet and toes lie almost flat at the ends of his thin legs.
Yet thanks to a group of technically savvy friends, Anderson DJed a New Year's Eve dance set before nearly 300 friends - using his eyes.
"Unbelievable, absolutely unbelievable," says friend Paul Frett, as he watched Anderson move a curser across a computer screen by moving his pupils, movements recorded by an eye-tracking camera.
Eye tracking is not new. It allows ALS patients like Anderson to communicate with their families. But Anderson's friends believe it's the first time the technology has been adapted to allow someone with ALS to disc jockey a show.
Anderson, a 47-year-old former software designer and trainer, traveled in a circle of artistic and technologically savvy friends. With Anderson's input, they set out several months ago to build a workable program to allow Anderson to DJ on New Year's Eve.
Money was needed for hardware and software. Friend Harley Sitner from Seattle launched a crowd funding campaign on kickstarter.com and raised more than $30,000. "We really wanted to involve and touch as many people as possible," said Sitner. "That's David's goal."
Anderson hopes the technology his team developed will have life after his DJ set. The team plans to make it available for other applications. Anderson hopes future ALS patients will benefit. "We are going to fix it for everyone that needs it, giving it away," said Anderson through his communication device.
His wife Margit has never doubted her husband's resolve. "He's always been a brilliant man," she said. "Whatever comes out of it will be amazing, because he's amazing."
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