Tony “TemptOne” Quan is a legendary graffiti artist. He started working out of Los Angeles in the early 1980s and, over the years, became known for images that fused the city’s cholo or Latin American culture with New York style writing.
In 2003 Quan was diagnosed with ALS, the degenerative nerve disease that ended Lou Gehrig’s baseball career in 1939. Quan assumed it meant the end of his career, as well. But 70 years can make a big difference, especially when it comes to all the ways technology allows us to communicate, collaborate, and access online resources. And that’s where Mick Ebeling comes in.
Ebeling, a film maker and part-time inventor, happened to visit an art gallery in Los Angeles that was exhibiting Quan’s work. When Ebeling learned that Quan could no longer practice his art, he considered making a monetary donation. But after thinking about it, he found himself asking the question: If Stephen Hawking can communicate through a machine, why don’t we have a way for an artist like Quan to draw again?
And because it was 2003, he didn’t only ASK it, he ACTED on it. I recently had the chance to speak with Mick about his work with Not Impossible Labs, the organization he founded in order to help people like Tony. You can listen here.
From Thought to Invention: The Global Brain
Ebeling’s early research led him to a laser-tagging projection tool, a technology that allows the user to write on building walls with a laser and a pointer. Once he learned how it worked, he realized there might be some potential there for Quan.
That’s when he reached out to what he likes to call “the global brain.”
Ebeling recognized that “we’re all hackers and makers,” and that we’re living in an era of unprecedented access to information and to people. That’s the combination he equates with a global brain. And it what’s allowed him to access the kinds of experts to help him answer the question he posed next: Knowing that laser technology can be used to crate art, hands-free, what if we can figure out a way for Quan to control the laser with his eyes?
After a year of planning and outreach, Ebeling assembled a team of seven international hackers and programmers for a two and one-half week period of all-day programming sessions. This group not only possessed incredible skills, they had a burning desire to find a solution to the problem Ebeling was trying to solve and to do it in a way that was simple, accessible, and affordable.
They named the result of their work the Eyewriter.
For the first time in six years, Quan, could create graffiti using eye movements. Because someone asked the question and then acted on it with a team of curious colleagues, Quan could continue to create his art.
If Not YOU, then who?
It also led him to create Not Impossible Labs an online platform that connects innovators with one another and with problems they want to solve. Given all the resources technology places at our fingertips, Ebeling believes that “it is naïve now to think that anything, any problem we might be looking at, is impossible to solve.”
Provided we don’t wait for someone else to do it! What problem will you solve?