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Control the computer with your eyes

December 7, 2012
Figure 1: The PCEye from Tobii Assistive Technology Inc. is portable and lightweight and is capable of docking beneath any standard retail PC monitor and integrating with Windows.

Figure 1: The PCEye from Tobii Assistive Technology Inc. is portable and lightweight and is capable of docking beneath any standard retail PC monitor and integrating with Windows.

By Geoffrey W. Goodfellow, O.D., and Dominick M. Maino, O.D.

For countless individuals who lack the motor control needed to operate a computer with a traditional keyboard and mouse, there are some new technologies available that allow the eyes to act as the controller.

This is an amazing development for patients with diseases like Parkinson’s, muscular dystrophy, or cerebral palsy.

Hardware and software

The technology is driven by high-resolution cameras that monitor the position of each eye.

The software is calibrated by having the user look at specific dots on a grid pattern displayed on the computer screen.

This allows the device to determine exactly where the eyes are pointing.

From there, the cameras monitor the angle between the eyes to determine where in space the eyes are looking.

Much of the technology necessary for the device comes from the video gaming industry.

Figure 2: Researchers at Imperial College London developed a two-camera display attached to a standard spectacle frame.

Figure 2: Researchers at Imperial College London developed a two-camera display attached to a standard spectacle frame.

The eyes are capable of very quick and detailed movements, so the images from the high-resolution cameras need to be interpreted very efficiently and accurately.

The developers of some of these systems indicate that users looking across a normal-sized room and wearing the device would be able to locate where the eyes are looking within the size of a grapefruit.

Designers

The PCEye from Tobii Assistive Technology Inc. is the newest device to hit the market.

It boasts an eye-tracking technology solution that provides the most intuitive, easy-to-use, stress-free means of gaining comprehensive computer access.

The device is portable and lightweight and is capable of docking beneath any standard retail PC monitor and integrating with Windows (see Figure 1).

There are other similar devices available from other companies, but the PCEye appears to be the most sophisticated.

Retail cost for these devices has been quoted upward of $5,000.

Researchers at Imperial College London are developing a similar system with a target cost of $125.

Their system is also based on a two-camera display but attached to a standard spectacle frame (see Figure 2).

They are aiming for the same functionality of the commercial devices but for significantly less cost.

“My mission is that we forge technology with neurological science to find ways to help millions of people with disabilities, such as loss of limbs or muscular disorders, use technology in a cheap way,” said Aldo Faisal, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Imperial College London.

Usability

The technology has already opened the doors for many people with severe spinal cord injuries, repetitive strain injuries, and other debilitative conditions.

Using their eyes, these people are able to open computer files, navigate the Web, and access software applications.

Such individuals can now independently communicate online and conduct business using a computer.

Such devices may also jump start an offering of hands-free computing which may become useful for all computer users, even those without physical disabilities.

Imagine scrolling through an online magazine using only your eyes or interacting with your television without using your remote control.

Optometry’s role

It’s unclear exactly what role these devices will have on optometric practice.

Eye movement deficiencies have long been associated with academic problems.

Optometrists have a variety of tests to assess saccades, pursuits, and fixation; there are also a host of therapies designed to improve these visual skills.

Future patients that use this type of technology would likely benefit from having accurate eye movements and visual skills.

This would be in addition to optometry’s current role in managing computer vision syndrome, refractive error, and dry eye syndrome.

Geoffrey G. Goodfellow, O.D., is an associate professor of optometry at the Illinois College of Optometry (ICO), ICO’s assistant dean for Curriculum and Assessment and the president of the Illinois Optometric Association. He can be contacted at ggoodfel@ico.edu. Dominick M. Maino, O.D. is a professor of pediatrics and binocular vision at ICO and a Distinguished Practitioner of the National Academies of Practice. He can be contacted at dmaino@ico.edu.

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