The eyes view and observe the world daily, influencing one’s decisions and choices. They contribute to body language and reveal our feelings and thoughts. Eye movements are a source of communication contributing to everyday interactions, recognition of faces and places, while creating and retrieving memories connecting the external environment to the internal environment. A person’s eyes assist with everyday activities such as driving, working, and mobilising from place to place.
Imagine wanting to turn on the TV however you are unable to move your body. What would you do? How would you communicate with a friend or family member. Now imagine being unable to talk or move your body except your eyes. You can see the TV and you can see a family member. What do you do?
People living with communication difficulties face these challenges every day. This is where the eyes become the only tool to being a person’s voice and giving a person with a severe disability the ability to turn on the TV or ask for help. Assistive Technology utlising eye gaze calibration creates a bridge for a person to complete occupations, socialise and communicate within the community.
Eye Gaze Technology allow a person to control their environment, communicate, mobilise, perform everyday activities, and increase independence through eye movement. Eye gaze technology provides health professionals research opportunities to identify disease and understand human behaviour by tracking eye movements. As future advancements of assistive technology become available the world is evolving to create a future of inclusive possibilities.
As a 4th year Occupational Therapist student at Deakin University I decided to explore and research Eye Gaze Technology for an Innovation Project with Eazilee. This project and experience explored the advancements in eye gaze assistive technology and the importance of access, for an inclusive future.
Communication and Occupations
Eye gaze technology allows the possibility for someone to communicate, type and write emails, play games, watch videos or participate at work. The overall aim of an eye tracker device for laptops is to replace the traditional mouse and keypad to continue with occupations. Eye gaze technology is available for children and adults with software and programs to assist with person’s specific needs.
Tobii Dynavox Eye Tracker
The new Tobii Dynavox ‘PCEye’ eye tracker is a slim and portable product that works indoors and outdoors fitting onto Microsoft laptops and computers. Tobii offers a range of products from communication systems and environment control.
Look to Speak App
The Look to Speak app was developed by Google and is compatable with Android smart phones. This experimental app utilises eye tracking to select phrase and communicate aloud for the person. The eyes are calibrated to the app and the app is controlled by looking up, left or right. If your eyes become fatigued you can select can select snooze on the app. Tips and tricks can be found on this downloadable guide: Guide: Look to Speak App. This experimental app is not recommended to replace other communication eye gaze technology required for a person with a disability. As an occupational therapist seeing this technology on smart phones is an exciting opportunity to give a person a voice and increase inclusiveness to discussions while participating in activities.
Controlling the Environment
Eye gaze technology can be calibrated through software to link up eye tracking to control the environment in a person’s home. This technology gives a person the choice and freedom to independently complete certain task or activity independently if they want to, providing inclusiveness and increased participation with activities around the household. As an occupational therapist student controlling the environment through eye gaze is an exciting tool to be seen and provides options for people to continue to participate in activities important and meaningful to them.
Environmental Control Devices
Take for example the Tobii Dynavox ‘EyeR’ an extra connection for Windows laptops and tablets that can connect to infrared devices through the virtual remote on Windows Control 2 software to control appliances within the environment surroundings through eye gaze. Or the NeuroNode Trilogy software that combines eye gaze, sensor control of electromyography (EMG) and the NeuroNode 3.0 software to control the home environment. EMG detects small finger muscle responses such as moving the index finger through the wrist band and sensors allowing for a person to use both eye gaze and muscle control to complete tasks or control their home environment. Through this different type of software, a person can control lighting, beds, air conditioner, telephones and many more appliances.
Dr Jordan Nguyen and Riley Experiment 1
Meet Riley and Dr Jordan Nguyen who worked together to develop environmental eye gaze technology. Dr Jordan Nguyen is a biomedical engineer who designed eye gaze technology with electro signals and artificial intelligence to allow Riley who has cerebral palsy to control environmental appliances. Riley already uses eye gaze technology for communication but was interested in controlling the environment and Dr Jordan Nguyen was there to give him this opportunity. Within the video below, see the end product of Riley’s eye power and his family’s reaction to the outcome. If you are interested in the whole process I recommend watching the full documentary Superhuman Part 1.
Mobilising from A to B
Inclusiveness and independence are an option for a person who mobilises in a powered wheelchair inside or outside. My EccPupil are eye gaze controlled German designed glasses that direct a person’s wheelchair. A person wear’s these glasses and the software connects the persons eye movements to the direction their wheelchair moves. The My EccPupil technology won the German Design Award 2021. Watch the video below to see the difference these glasses can give a person’s experience of independence and interaction within the community.
Dr Jordan Nguyen and Riley Experiment 2
Meet Dr Jordan Nguyen and Riley again, Riley has a goal to be able to drive after experiencing environmental control with eye gaze technology. Dr Jordan Nguyen and his team create a buggy Riley can control through eye gaze technology and sensor control. This is an exciting documentary of the development of the buggy and watching Riley putting his eyes and mind to the test and learn and adapt eye control movements and sensor control technique in one day! Watch the video below to see the end product or watch the full documentary of Superhuman Part 2.
Research and Eye Gaze Technology
Alongside eye gaze assisting a person to function within their environment, communicate and mobilise, the technology has been incorporated into research. For example, AdHawk Microsystems are researching and creating eye tracking technology that unlocks the connection between the eyes, the brain, and the external environment. The AdHawk MindLink glasses are a new eye tracking tool utilised by researchers for collating health data such as detecting eye conditions, neurological conditions and tracking human behaviour.
Eye Gaze and Early Interventions
Research has found that eye tracking technology can identify and diagnose children with autism through the detection of instinctive gaze patterns and tracking the child’s eyes. This is beneficial for early interventions to be in place for the child to assist with communication skills, socialising skills and enhance the child’s ability to participate in everyday activities like play or school.