Mick Ebeling discusses “technology for the sake of humanity”

Can technology offer hope to an artist battling Lou Gehrig’s disease, or restore hearing to a young musician? Founder of Not Impossible Labs, Mick Ebeling, talks to reporter Andrea Vasquez about “technology for the sake of humanity” via Google Hangout.

TRANSCRIPT

We live in an exciting age, where new technologies tackle seemingly impossible problems every single day.

But can tech offer hope to an artist battling ALS or restore hearing to a young musician?

Founder of Not Impossible Labs Mick Ebeling says yes.

Reporter Andrea Vasquez has this interview via Google Hangout.

Mick Ebeling, thank you for joining us.

You're the founder of Not Impossible Labs.

So, what is Not Impossible Labs?

What do you do?

Not Impossible Labs is a company that is based on the premise of technology for the sake of humanity.

And what that means is how do you take existing technology, anything that exists and plays in kind of the world, how do you maybe create new technology?

How do you engineer, hack, make something so that it accomplishes a fundamental human and social need?

So, technology that we make that accomplishes a human need.

That's what Not Impossible is.

That's what we do.

And our mission is to change the world through technology and story.

And what that means is obviously the technology part I just explained.

But because we have a filmmaking background and a storytelling background, whatever we create, we then go and take that and tell a really powerful story around that.

So, we'll make a movie or a short, and that's how we get the word out about the work that we do.

How did you get started?

We got started because back in 2009, I met a paralyzed graffiti artist named Tempt.

And Tempt at that time, or would have been the '80s and '90s, was one of L.A.'s most prominent graffiti artists.

And I didn't know him.

I didn't know anything about him.

But my wife and I went to an art benefit and were exposed to him and his work, and we found out that he had ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease.

And it was one of those moments, one of those kind of chance encounters that was stuck in the back of our head, and come towards the end of that year, we decided to make a donation on behalf of my company to the Tempt One Foundation.

When I sat across from his brother and said, 'Hey, we're gonna make a donation.

What are you gonna use it for?'

Their response was, 'We just want to be able to communicate and talk with Tempt again.'

And that was when I learned that the majority of the world doesn't have what I thought everybody had, which is a Stephen Hawking machine, right?

A device that allowed you to talk with your eyes.

And they said that that's not the case, that that's only because you have money or insurance.

And they didn't have either.

So, that kind of set the course of a principle that I write about and I talk a lot about and that we live by here, which is the principle of commit and then figure it out.

And so, I told his brother and father, 'Listen.

That's ridiculous.

We have to make something for him so that he can communicate and do his art again.'

And then, off we went.

And then we went off, and we created the Eyewriter.

And the Eyewriter is this.

That's it.

This is an example of it.

Wow!

Steve Jobs would not be very happy with it.

It's not supposed to be pretty.

It is a cheap pair of sunglasses from the Venice Beach boardwalk, a coat hanger, and a web camera.

And what this does is, when you put it on, it focuses the camera back on your eye, and then it uses the center of your eye, your pupil, as a tracking point.

So, as you move your eyes, so does the cursor move on the screen.

You're writing the physical letters with your eyeballs?

Exactly, with your eyeballs.

[ Laughing ] Okay.

With the movement of your eyes.

Yeah, yeah.

Is it a group of experts when you get a request?

We have principles that we work by and live by here, and one of them is that you surround yourself with people who are specialists and experts in their particular field.

So, with the Eyewriter, I brought together a team of brilliant people from literally all the corners of the Earth, from Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Germany, New York, Utah.

Everybody came in from all kinds of places, and we just worked for a fast and furious five weeks.

One of the projects that you have is Music: Not Impossible.

Can you tell me about that?

With Music: Not Impossible, what we did is we recognized the fact that most people who are deaf, for them to experience music, it comes through the form of very kind of blunt vibrations.

If they go to a concert, they're just feeling kind of the bass or the speaker's turned up very loud.

That's the way that they experience music.

Having friends who are deaf, we realized that those vibrations are fairly -- they're not very accurate.

They're just kind of a general projection of these vibrating kind of tones of the music.

So, we said, 'Well, wait a second.

What if we were able to dissect music and actually project those vibrations but in a very smart way, in a very acute way?'

So, we created a solution that takes a music file and actually separates it out, fragments it out, and then projects it across the different parts of your body with little haptic vibrating motors.

So, what you have is you have now instead of feeling music -- and this goes for people who can hear or can't hear -- rather than just being hit with kind of that blunt instrument or that blunt vibration, now you have very tactile, very acute vibration patterns for lyrics or lead guitar or the bass guitar, the drums or the synth or whatever it might be.

So, the thing that we created for Mandy, who is a deaf singer -- this is the first time she was actually able to feel her music in a very precise way.

And the testimony to the fact that this actually worked, when we played one of her songs, she was able -- she can't hear -- but she was able to sing the song perfectly on time because she was able to feel the music.

So, when she started singing, it was the exact spot in the song that her lyrics were supposed to come up.

So, it was an amazing experience.

I look forward to seeing what else comes out of your lab.

Thank you, Mick Ebeling, for joining us.

Absolutely. Thank you.