Innovators of Tomorrow | Gregor Biswanger

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This episode features Gregor Biswanger and his Project Werner. Inspired to help his spastically disabled brother communicate, Gregor developed software that lets his brother’s facial expressions type and talk for him.

Hi everyone. Welcome to Innovators of Tomorrow. I'm your host Wendy Boswell, here to bring you the sights, sounds, and inspirational work from developers in our innovator community from around the globe. 

Today we are talking to Gregor Biswanger. He's an Intel Software Innovator, an Intel Black Belt Developer, and a Microsoft MVP. We'll be taking a look at Project Vernor, a project Gregor built to help his disabled brother communicate. So let's get this started. 

Welcome Gregor. Thanks for calling all the way from Germany. Can you tell us a little bit more about your project? 

Thanks for having me. Project Vernor is an open source project on GitHub. And you can control the computer over 3D cameras and face gestures, and that's important for disability people. 

So what inspired you to create this project? 

My older brother, Vernor, has a spastic disability since he was three months old. And he has no control over the hands or the foot. Cannot walk or talk. Only my mother understands him. And on the last IDF conference in San Francisco, I meet another Intel Black Belt, Andre Carlucci. And we go in San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge for the very emotional moment. We talk about the life. 

And one thing was we talk, what is your big wish in life? And I say, my wish is never possible. My brother Vernor should walk again or talk again clearly, but not possible. And he say, why don't use the open source software from Intel that Stephen Hawking used? I was surprised Stephen Hawking's software is from Intel and open source. 

And back in Germany I tried the software, but I was really disappointed. Works only with 2D cameras, and you have a big problem with this. You need a third person for recognizing the camera and change the light. It's not working correctly or people go on the background. The camera, the software thinking a wrong face, it just was activated. It's not too good. 

And then I think hey, why not with a 3D camera? And I develop a WPF application prototype with Intel RealSense, and yeah, that works. And one week later I test the software with my brother, Vernor, and it works. It was the first time he have control over a thing. And his first words were thank you. 

Danke. 

Whoo! 

[SPEAKING GERMAN] 

And it was absolute emotional and for me and my family. 

Yeah, I can't even imagine. That this must have been so just incredible. What was the impact on your family? 

Oh big. My brothers and sisters can talk now with him clearly. And he can use the internet now. And it's absolute amazing. 

So it's a whole new world for him, basically. 

Oh yeah. 

Yeah. So as you look back, what has been the most difficult part of the project? 

A big problem was a driver from the 3D cameras. It's more developed for people that sit on front for the camera. And the wheelchair people cannot sit directly on the front for the camera. And this was a big problem. 

My priority list was Microsoft Kinect. It's easy to order one. As Intel RealSense more available for developers. But the problem is Microsoft Kinect was not good for direct face detection. Kinect needs the complete body for the best detections of the face also. And the Intel RealSense was perfect for face detection. 

That's great. So you've talked a little bit about this, but what were the hardware and software technologies that you used in this project? 

It's based on .NET for Microsoft, WPF and developed in C#. And you'll see the Microsoft Kinect or here the Intel RealSense camera. Or eye tracking from Tobii, so eye tracking camera. That's what I use. 

That's great. So Gregor where would you like to see this project go? What are your hopes and dreams for this? 

For me it's important the software is for free forever for people that have not enough money. And for me it's a human right to communicate with other people. I think we need a technical solution that helps people. 

Yes well thank you Gregor. This has been super inspirational. We really appreciate you calling in today. 

Thank you having me on. I hope that my project can help others too.