Computers make life easier, quicker, and control the world around us. Unless, that is, you happen to be one of the millions of people who can’t use them.
Now, researchers at the Imperial College in London have built a special pair of glasses that will let people with limited mobility—such as those suffering from multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s, or muscular dystrophy—interact with a computer using only their eyes.
The device, named the GT3D, is nothing fancy. Just a pair of cheap glasses with two cameras hooked on to the sides which track the wearer’s eye movements. The changing positions of their pupils are recorded and translated into a computer input—just how a mouse or trackball would.
In this video a researcher demonstrates the effectiveness of the technology by playing Pong using the GT3D glasses:
Not only that, but the GT3D can measure the depth of where a wearer is looking. With this third axis of control the potential applications for the device could one day mean controlling or driving a wheelchair, just by focusing on a spot in the distance where the wearer wants to go. Another capability is that the wearer could move prosthetic arms and even make them gesture just by the movement of their eyes.
There have been other examples of researchers trying to create cheap eye-tracking technology. Mick Ebeling of the NotImpossible Group helped the graffiti writer Tempt start drawing again when he connected a low-cost EyeWriter solution to a projector. Watch this video where collaborator Zack Leiberman of Eyebeam explain the project:
Dr. Aldo Faisal, Lecturer in Neurotechnology at Imperial’s Department of Bioengineering and the Department of Computing, said about the GT3D:
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.
There are a number of professional medical eye-tracking solutions available already, but the whole GT3D set up costs less than $65, only uses one watt of power, and is made with easy to find parts. This device could truly help millions of people can gain access to parts of life that have been closed off to them because of ailments or injuries.
Imperial College London