More MS news articles for Aug 2001

MS sufferer hits links via laser tech

Infrared tracking allows city man to play golf using lap-top computer

Wednesday 15 August 2001
Scott Foster, Journal Staff Writer
The Edmonton Journal

Bill Miller is back on the links for good.

The nerve-debilitating effects of multiple sclerosis gradually paralyzed the 55-year-old from the shoulders down, confining him to a wheelchair in 1991. He lost almost all movement in his hands in 1994. But that has not stopped him from perfecting his golf swing on Californian fairways.

With the aid of an infrared laser and the precise right-to-left movements of his head to guide the swing of his virtual club, the Edmonton native played with some of the game's best during a 15-hole tournament at Pelican Hills Golf Course in Newport Beach, Calif., last summer.

"If you move your head too far down, you slice the ball," he says.

"Too far up, and you top it. There's a major degree of physical control."

In the first-of-its-kind event, Miller and 14 other quadriplegics used infrared tracking to play in the Real Abilities Charity Golf Tournament with five players from the Professional Golf Association, including Jon Wright, Brigham Gibbs, Chris Jones, Eric Neilson and Tommy Johnson.

"Talk about your moment in the sun!" he recalls.

Quadriplegic players on the course relied on a lap-top screen attached to the arms of their chairs and a "sip and puff" straw or a "cheek switch" to click on their virtual golf-club selections, rather than a conventional mouse.

An infrared laser aimed at the user's forehead is picked up by a quarter-sized white dot usually clipped to the brim of a hat. The dot reflects the laser back at the screen and the user moves the cursor with their head.

On their glare-resistant screens, quadriplegic players at Pelican Hills surveyed a graphic replica of each hole, complete with sand traps, trees and houses that were even at the same stage of construction as they were in real life. Players chose from the usual range of clubs and contended with real wind speeds on the course. The force of the player's swing was determined by the speed at which they moved their head.

A global positioning system kept track of where their virtual ball fell in relation to the actual fairway.

"The system is completely self-contained and runs on a 12-volt battery. It puts players somewhere between Jack Nicklaus and a Star Wars pilot," Miller says.

"You actually have the ability not just to make a choice, but to give input on the speed and force at which the ball travels."

The same infrared device, designed by Edmonton-based Madentec Ltd., stared back at users who visited Alberta House on the main floor of Edmonton City Centre West, 102nd Street and 102nd Avenue, during the World's.

For Miller, the device has allowed him to enjoy sports again. "I was born in a locker room," he says of his love for sports.

The Edmontonian, who is a self-proclaimed "over-achiever," has not looked back. Instead, he is focused on the future applications of infrared tracking technology and the possibility that more disabled people will use it. He says the laser-guided mouse can be easily applied to other sports like baseball.

An accomplished artist, Miller has already applied the technology to painting with great success. "This technology has really put me in a position where I can increase my self-esteem and independence by remaining active and creative."

Bill Miller's art work and information on assistive technologies can be found at