Multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, muscular dystrophy, amputations, and spinal cord injuries rob millions of people of the ability to interact with their surroundings. Computer usage can be a near impossibility, as these diseases and injuries typically affect mobility and the use of the arms and hands greatly. Good news is on the way, as a device that costs under $65 may provide this group of people with the ability to control their computers and interact with their surroundings using only their eyes.
IOP Publishing’s Journal of Neural Engineering showcased the new technology that is made of an eye-tracking device and “smart” software that allows the eye to act as a mouse, providing users with the ability to move a cursor on the screen.
The device, which was developed by researchers at the Imperial College in London, is known as the GT3D device. The reason it is so affordable is because it is made with off-the-shelf items that you wouldn’t expect to see in such a high tech gadget. The device uses two fast video game console cameras that cost around $30 each. These cameras are attached outside of the line of vision to a pair of $5 glasses.
The cameras take a continual stream of photos that are used to determine where the pupil of the eye is directed. The researchers then used calibrations to work out where the person was looking on the screen. The researchers also utilized more precise calibrations to figure out a 3D gaze. With this information, they were able to determine how far into the distance the person was looking.
Another added bonus to this new device is that it’s solved what has been considered the “Midas touch problem.” In short, users could move a mouse arrow around a screen, but could not click on any icons easily. In past devices, users had to stare at icons or blink, and the results were less than accurate. With the GT3D device, users wink to click. Being that a wink is a voluntary action, unlike staring or blinking, it is considerably more timely and accurate.
The researchers had study subjects play Pong without using hand controllers of any kind to see how quickly they learned to control the game paddles. Dr. Aldo Faisal, Lecturer in Neurotechnology at Imperial’s Department of Bioengineering and the Department of Computing, noted that six of the trial users had never used their eyes to control input previously, and scored within 20 percent of able bodied users after an impressively short 10 minutes of playtime.
According to Dr. Faisal, “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. 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.”
And if you thought the GT3D was already incredibly affordable, this extra good news is really going to blow your mind! According to Dr. Faisal, “We originally created the device for £39.80 ($64) but recent falls in the price of video game console cameras mean we could now actually make the same device for about £20 ($32).” That’s exciting news, indeed!