British researchers have developed a new and inexpensive technology that could soon allow people with neuromuscular conditions that limit their mobility to control their computers using just their eyes.
The technology uses an eye-tracking device and "smart" software to allow for “hands-off” computer use, according to researchers from Imperial College London.
In a test of the new technology, detailed in the Journal of Neural Engineering, the system’s inventors said a group of six people were able to use it to play the classic computer game Pong without any kind of handset. Users were also able to browse the web and write emails using just the movement of their eyes.
Dr. Aldo Faisal, a neurotechnology expert at Imperial's Department of Bioengineering and the Department of Computing, said the new “GT3D” device could be a boon to millions of people who are now unable to use a computer because of spinal cord injuries, amputations, paralysis or movement-limiting diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's and muscular dystrophy.
Researchers noted the device is also inexpensive, costing less than $80.
"Crucially, we have achieved two things: we have built a 3D eye tracking system hundreds of times cheaper than commercial systems and used it to build a real-time brain machine interface that allows patients to interact more smoothly and more quickly than existing invasive technologies that are tens of thousands of times more expensive,” Faisal said. "This is frugal innovation; developing smarter software and piggy-backing existing hardware to create devices that can help people worldwide independent of their healthcare circumstances."
The GT3D device is made up of two video game console cameras that are attached to a pair of glasses. The cameras constantly take pictures of the eye, tracking eye movements to determine where a person is looking on the computer screen. That allows users to control a cursor on a screen like a normal computer mouse.
The researchers suggested further refinements of the technology could one day allow people to control a robotic prosthetic arm or an electronic wheelchair simply by looking where they want to go.
To test the system, the researchers had subjects to play the video game Pong, using just their eyes to move a bat to hit a ball that was bouncing around the screen. They also configured the system so that a simple wink would represent a mouse click.
To watch a video demonstration of the system, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zapK5wvYU84.