For people who have diseases like ALS, or are otherwise “locked-in,” eye control is their only real option for interaction with a computer and with their world. A group of engineers from Tel Aviv has recently built an inexpensive wearable called EyeControl that tracks the pupil and translates blinks and movements into commands. Their infrared camera mounts unobtrusively below the eye and does not interfere with normal vision.
It all runs on a credit-card-sized computer and lets users type letters or issue fully wrought sentences just by looking at a screen. A Bluetooth connection to a smartphone also gives the system text-to-speech capability. The group is now raising funds on Indiegogo and hopes to be able to offer the complete system for just $250.
The beauty of their new EyeControl device is that it pretty much works right out of the box. You just put the glasses on and the system will then go through a quick auto-calibration. As long as you and your audience are fluent in English or Hebrew you will be good to go. One concern particularly with ALS is that eventually even the eyes are affected. For example, in the later stages of the disease, the oculomotor nerve that controls certain kinds of eye movements begins to be compromised.
However, for the most part the deficits in eye movements for early stage ALS patients shouldn’t be a problem. Although they can have trouble with generating voluntary fast movements or in engaging in smooth pursuit and convergence movements, their generally slower saccades might be advantageous for the function of the device.
For the rest of us, a $250 wearable command center might still have certain appeal. The question of universal eye tracking systems is probably not one of “if,” but rather “when.” The advantages of a near-effortless and inertia-free eye movement system for accurate, high speed control have already been made clear. If inexpensive solutions like EyeControl can gain a foothold in the handicapped market, they may gain enough momentum to bring even more sophisticated eye control to the masses.
We might imagine that among the few remaining hurdles to widespread adoption of eye control would be the ability to bring the system on and offline without monopolizing your normal blinks and gaze intuitions. With practice, one might in theory eventually dispense with the command selection screen altogether if the user is able to subconsciously remember where in space certain commands or letters lie — a kind of high-speed “eye swipe gesture,” if you will.