Royal push for gad­get giv­ing a voice to the silent

The Australian - - THE NATION - JACQUELIN MAGNAY

A life-chang­ing Aus­tralian de­vice that helps peo­ple with­out speech or move­ment com­mu­ni­cate through elec­tri­cal im­pulses has won best Pitch@Palace as part of the Com­mon­wealth Heads of Gov­ern­ment Meet­ing in Lon­don.

Peter Ford, a Syd­ney-based for­mer Seven Net­work pre­sen­ter who grew up in Miles in out­back Queens­land, im­pressed in­vestors in­side St James’s Palace with his three-minute pitch about Neu­roNode, a wire­less clin­i­cal grade bionic sys­tem for con­trol­ling smart­phones and robotics with elec­tri­cal sig­nals from in­side a per­son’s mus­cle.

Pitch@Palace is the brain­child of Prince An­drew, who brings to­gether en­trepreneurs and in­vestors to help scale up com­pa­nies.

Mr Ford’s com­pany, Con­trol Bion­ics, which was kick­started 12 years ago with a mil­lion­dol­lar in­vest­ment by seed in­vestors Nightin­gale Part­ners, was the Aus­tralian en­try in a Com­mon­wealth field of 47.

Mr Ford, 67, told the au­di­ence how a seven-year-old girl who has a dis­ease that pre­vents her from speak­ing or mov­ing was able to mas­ter Neu­roNode within min­utes to spell her name. In her first sen­tence, she wrote “Can I have a baby sis­ter”.

The room of doc­tors and fam­ily was over­come with emo­tion as she added “and a puppy”.

Mr Ford ex­plained dur­ing his pitch how Stephen Hawk­ing would as­sist him in de­vel­op­ing the prod­uct.

At his first trial with Pro­fes­sor Hawk­ing, the prod­uct worked.

Said Mr Ford: “I was elated, but he was not and he an­nounced ‘Your soft­ware is no good’. Dis­ap­pointed, I went home and coded, re­coded and checked” un­til it met the great physi­cist’s stan­dards.

Mr Ford said he was “deeply hon­oured and hum­bled” at the royal recog­ni­tion of his prod­uct.

“This has opened up a whole new area for us. The net­work­ing and con­nec­tions that the palace pro­vides speeds it up.”

Mr Ford’s de­vice, which he brought to mar­ket last year, is al­ready used by Aus­tralasian and US agen­cies.

Ford

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