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My first attempt to produce a SWAN device was in 2001, using a microcontroller. My sister bought me PICBASIC software, I made a PIC programmer, a friend got me a handful of PIC 16F84 microcontroller chips, and I began to develop SWAN.
The prototype used a modified computer mouse as an ergonomic switch - the mouse button switches being simply connected to the cord, no use being made of the internal electronics. A PIC 16F84 microcontroller was interfaced with an ISD 1016A "chipcorder" IC. This device, an addressable non-volatile audio record/playback chip, had my voice saying the alphabet recorded on it. The microcontroller then sequenced through the alphabet, and the user could hear this through the headphones. Letters were selected using the mouse buttons, and the created text was shown on an HD 44780 liquid crystal alphanumeric display, having two lines of 16 characters.
Here's a bit of documentation from 2001 -