NeuroNode — EMG Based Communications and Control System

While interviewing Australian, entrepreneur Peter Shann Ford my memory kept repeating the late Senator Robert Kennedy’s quote, “Many men see things as they are and ask why, I see things as they aren’t and ask why not?”

Resembling comedian Shecky Greene. Ford and Greene share another common trait. They are geniuses in their professions. Greene is revered for his comedic genius. One of his legendary jokes is “I should never eat lox because I can’t find the combination.”

Having discovered in 1989 that damaged muscles still emit electrical signals, Ford, who is also is a life time member of the Mensa organization was ready to respond to Kennedy’s dream of, “I see things as they aren’t and ask, why not?” The discovery made Ford well-known.

The Mensa organization is the largest and oldest IQ society in the world. It is a non-profit organization open to people who score at the 98th percentile or higher on a standardized, supervised IQ or other approved intelligence test.

Before entering the neuroscience field—Neuroscience is an interdisciplinary science that works closely with other disciplines, such as mathematics, linguistics, engineering, computer science, chemistry, philosophy, psychology, and medicine—Ford was known as a software developer, author and international reporter and news anchor. He joined Cable News Network (CNN) in 1990 in Atlanta, GA. He reported on new technology, medicine, military affairs and shuttle launches at the John F Kennedy Space Center.

He is a 1972 graduate of Officer Training Unit, Scheyville who completed National Service as an infantry officer with the Third Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment.

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Ford’s military service had awakened a powerful empathy in him for people with severe disabilities. He had watched the struggles of many people with a loss of speech and paralysis unable to tell anyone of their needs, their feelings and their pain. He envisioned an assistive technology communication device that reconnects the voiceless and the paralytic to their family. It was a need that plagued him for years. He knew he had to address it.

While at CNN, he became a computer programmer/analyst. He served on one of the first teams to develop microcomputers for rehabilitation and communications for people with disabilities at the VAMC Rehabilitation R&D Laboratory in Atlanta. Working with principal investigator Gary Wynn Kelly, he wrote JoyWriter 2, an Apple-based program that enabled people with neuromuscular disease and spinal injuries to replace a computer keyboard with a joystick controller. For decades he developed advanced technology communications and control systems for people with profound disabilities, and as a software consultant to rehabilitation researchers and therapists in the United States, England and Australia.

As far back as he can recall, Ford has been fascinated by communications between people and technology. He believed that if you could give speech to the voiceless and the paralytic the ability to communicate you would open up a new world. Ford’s goal was to develop a wearable, universally design, powerful, lightweight, assistive technology communications device. In later years, Ford wanted the NeuroNode to bridge the digital divide. The digital divide is the gulf between those who have ready access to computers and the Internet, and those who not. The World Bank estimates there are 1.2 billion disabled people who lack access to computers.

In 2000 Peter founded and became Chairman of Control Bionics, a neural systems technology company. Ford’s goal is making Control Bionics the world’s leading provider of EMG, the recording of the electrical activity of muscle tissue, or its representation as a visual display or audible signal, using electrodes attached to the skin or inserted into the muscle. Bionics is the study of mechanical system that function like living organisms or parts of living organisms.

One of Control Bionics milestones was developing the Neuroswitch, an EMG based communications and control system for people with profound disabilities . The Neuroswitch was the precursor to the NeuroNode.

In April 2018 Control Bionics was awarded the prestigious Pitch@Palace Innovation Award ahead of 42 competing commonwealth nations. Organized by the Duke of York and held at St. James Place, London, this year’s theme was “Human Technology – Benefits for Humanity,” an endeavor that certainly rings true for those familiar with the NeuroNode technology. With the NeuroNode, Ford had the product of his dreams. He needed a dream maker: a CEO. Enter Rob Wong.

Peter Ford and NeuroNode
Peter Ford and NeuroNode

Rob Wong : The Dream Maker

Ford knew he needed a take charge CEO who would be his dream maker.

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The qualifications were the CEO had to be a world visionary who shared Ford’s vision on the benefits of the NeuroNode. His dream maker had to have a marketing background in technology, strong organizational skills, a long range planner, a self starter, decision maker, a leader, an effective communicator. And a humanitarian.

Enter Rob Wong, who is 1/8th Chinese. There is very little Asian appearance in Wong. Wong was introduced to Ford by Lindsey Phillips, an initial investor in Control Bionics Wong’s background, manner and accomplishments impressed Ford. Ford says,” Rob measured up to all of my expectations.” Wong works closely with Peter Ford and reports directly to Ford.

Wong was a founder and CEO of a marketing strategy consultancy Innovat8. Wong had more than 25 years experience in international marketing strategy and operations. He had been a successful start-up entrepreneur having developed and exited a retail digital media business. He was a former CEO of AIMIA Digital Industry of Australia.

One of Wong’s first decisions was to name the product. He named it the NeuroNode. Another responsibility is convincing investors to support the NeuroNode. He was successful. Other responsibilities included establishing a headquarters in Milford, Ohio. Next he mastered the NeuroNode. He knows the product better than the developers. When he demonstrates the NeuroNode he does so with authority and conviction. Mindful of his audiences’ time, he keeps his demonstrations to 20 minutes and answers questions from 20-to-40 minutes. He keeps his answers short.

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Wong and Ford saw the United States as their biggest market. Wong knew he had to develop a year round communications plan. Wong begin looking at Assistive Technology conferences where the NeuroNode could be exhibited. He picked CSUN, ATIA, ASHA, Closing the Gap and RESNA.

His staff contacted the national headquarters of ALS, United Cerebral Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis, American Occupational Therapy Association, American Physical Therapy Association, Paralyzed , Veterans of American, George Mason University, The ARC, Parkinson’s Foundation of Northern Virginia, Endependence Center of Northern VA offering demonstrations. He believes once
these organizations have seen what the NeuroNode can do they will tell their members about the NeuroNode.

He has also contacted the disability media, social media and ABC, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, National Public Radio and other media. Wong knows that the more people who know about the NeuroNode the more people will support it. Wong isn’t just looking at the United States as his only market. He has exhibited at assistive technology conferences in Asia and Europe. The NeuroNode has been greeted with enthusiasm everywhere in has been exhibited and demonstrated.

Rob Wong NeuroNode
Rob Wong

“The NeuroNode as with other assistive technologies gives severely disabled people a new life while creating new opportunities for them,’ says Aldo Schmidt be used by people who have lost hope,” says Emma Schmidt, Rehabilitation consultant, Frankfort, Germany.

Thomas Welding, PhD, Rehabilitation Science, has seen the NeuroNode demonstrated at ATIA and CSUN. He is impressed by its versatility and its ease of use. He says, ‘‘The NeuroNode is the most innovative assistive technology product. I have seen in years. Everything about it—its size, portability, simplicity of use and its ability makes its unique. It is definitely life altering technology.”

Rehabilitation Science is an interdisciplinary that focuses on human function and disability.

The NeuroNode

Wong describes the NeuroNode as the world’s first wearable, wireless EMG assistive technology product. The technology gives people with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Cerebral Palsy or any disease or any condition causing the loss of speech or paralysis a connection to the world.

How does it work? A NeuroNode sensor is placed on the skin over the muscle to be the switch. When you move that muscle the NeuroNode detects bioelectrical signals. EMG signals are then generated in the body when an individual activates, or attempts to activate, a particular muscle group. The EMG signals, are sent instantly from the brain to the various muscle groups throughout the body.

Control Bionics

Public opinion is important in selling any product. NeuroNode users have their opinions on the NeuroNode.

Scott Trapp’s Story

Scott Trapp spent 6 years in the US Navy as a mechanic. He worked in the electronics and propulsion fields. He has been married for five years. He has a two-year-old son. Four years ago, Trapp was told, “You have ALS.”

The prognosis shocked him. He was scared. He knew he had to be strong and to do things that he could do.

ALS is a disease of the nerve cells and the brain that control nerve cells. in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. It is a progressive degenerative disorder.

Despite being unable to move his arms and legs, Trapp is happy doing what he can do with the NeuroNode. With the NeuroNode attached to a bicep above his right elbow, Scott sends signals to his iPad. He also uses the NeuroNode to make phone calls, send text messages, watch movies, play computer games with his two-year-old son and to control his environment. An example of controlling his environment and maintaining his independence is turning lights on and off without having to ask his son or an assistant.

Trapp is waiting for the day when he can be part of conversations on the web with his wife. He sees the NeuroNode is the key that opens the door to this event

Trapp’s opinion of the NeuroNode is, “The NeuroNode is definitely life-altering technology.”

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Jessica Nielsen’s Story

In May 2017 Jessica Nielsen fulfilled one of her life-long dreams by beginning service as a full-time missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. After three weeks in the Missionary Training Center, she flew to Long Beach, California in June where she anticipated serving for a period of 18 months.

On September 15, 2017, Jessica fainted after showering. She lost her pulse, and stopped breathing. MRI scans showed large areas of infection in her skull. Over the next several days, she lost all sensation and ability to move—first in her arms and then in her legs. Subsequent scans showed that extensive damage had developed over a few days to the neural tissue in the spinal cord at the base of her brain (most likely a spinal cord stroke). Although the doctors aren’t entirely sure how it happened she is paralyzed from the neck down.

In November she was transferred to the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore where she did physical therapy. She was sent home in early 2018 where she is under 24 hour care. She can’t breathe, eat or swallow on her own.

Medicare approved funding for the NeuroNode. The Control Bionics funding team provides support throughout the process, helping those in need to navigate the path to obtaining durable medical equipment (DME). “We’re incredibly excited to announce this additional funding option. Our goal and mantra is ‘life-changing connections,’ and this new resource provides us the ability to facilitate even more of those moments,” states Wong.

Maeve’s Story

Maeve is 8-years old. When she was 1-year-old, she was diagnosed as having spinal muscular atrophy. SMA robs people of physical strength by affecting the motor nerve cells in her spinal cord, taking away the ability to walk, eat, or breathe. It is the number one genetic cause of death for infants.

To get around Maeve uses a motorized wheelchair. She attends a school in New York City. Her special education teachers considered Maeve amazing, funny, observant and highly intelligent. Early in 2018 the school brought Maeve a NeuroNode. Her teachers were surprised at how quickly she learned to use it.

One of Maeve’s teachers says this about Maeve’s relationship with the NeuroNode, “They were made for one another.”

Another teacher said this about Maeve and the NeuroNode, “The NeuroNode has given Maeve a renewed feeling of independence and self worth.”

Using the NeuroNode that is linked to her iPad, Maeve writes her own sentences and does her own research.

Maeve’s teachers and parents praise Maeve’s sense of humor. Soon after receiving a the NeuroNode her teachers and parents were gathered around her. One of the teacher asked Maeve, “if you were granted a single wish what would it be?”

Maeve’s answer stunned everyone while simultaneously producing a laugh.

Maeve’s answer was, “I want a baby brother and a dog.”

Maeve’s parents are elated over the positive impact the NeuroNode has had on her.

“The NeuroNode has given Maeve a future. Ten years from now she could be the top student in her class and getting ready for college,” a smiling father said.

Anne Horton is a physical therapy nurse. In 20 years, she has used scores of different AT products with her patients. On the NeuroNode she says, “The NeuroNode lives up to everything the manufacturer says it does. It is a miracle technology. I can’t say that about most technologies.”Neuronode Emily Boland

by John M. Williams

John Williams writes about disability issues — he coined the phrase ‘assistive technology’

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