The world is moving online. More and more of our lives now takes place on computers. In a short space of time personal computers have taken over. Whereas before they were just for the privileged few now you can hardly find a house without one. Nowadays at libraries you can search, find, borrow and return a book with speaking to a single librarian. Everything can be done on a computer quickly and easily. This is the case for many other day-to-day activities and as time goes on it will only become more common. The problem is though, some people are being left out of this societal overhaul.
Our society is full of people with a range of disabling problems. Multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, spinal injuries and similar issues affect millions. These people struggle with computers or simply cannot use them. So with computers becoming more present in every day life and with the extraordinary advances in Internet speeds in recent years, time has to be spent on solving the problems that will inevitably arise. One such solution is a device that allows the user to control their computer through eye movement alone meaning even the most handicapped will be able to use a computer with ease.
(Image Source – Wiki Commons)
It is an interesting device because when you describe the items that were used to create it, it sounds crude. Researchers from the Imperial College London used two video game console cameras ($31 each) and a pair of glasses ($5). That’s it. The cost for the GT3D device is just $67 which is a fantastic price considering the implications. The way it works is that the cameras continuously take pictures of the eye to see where the pupil is. With this information the user is able to control a computer cursor with their eyes.
One of the most amazing aspects of the device is that it can even work out how far into the distance the user is looking. This sort of technology could greatly improve the usability of the computer but it also have other implications. It is suggested that using the 3D gaze of the user they could control a wheelchair by just looking at where they want to go or it could even be used in the operation of a prosthetic arm.
(Image Source – Wiki Commons)
The classic game of Pong was used by researchers to show how effective the glasses are. The subject used their eyes to control the bat in the game and hit the ball back and forth. Although that sounds like a simplistic demonstration it showed how well this technology worked. In comparison, trying to register brain waves and translating them into commands in this way would have been much more difficult to achieve. It also showed how easy to use the device is. Six of the subjects of whom had never used the device before managed to get decent enough scores in the game to come within 20 per cent of normal players. This was after using the glasses for only 10 minutes.
The researchers have also kept ease of use and installation in mind, too. It only uses one watt of power and so battery life will be excellent while it also transmits using WiFi meaning no wires to get in the way. To put it to use all you need to do is plug the receiver into a USB port and you’re ready to go. Simple stuff.
Dr Also Faisal, Lecturer in Neurotechnology at Imperial’s Department of Bioengineering and the Department of Computing said: “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.”
It is certain that technology such as this will become very common for disabled people. It will also get much more advanced. This sort of work will do a lot of good to bring in people from the cold created by advancing technology that they once could not use.
Faye Bradley is a freelance writer with an interest in technology and its impact on society. She enjoys writing about advances in hardware and software that will help enrich the lives of the most isolated places and people.