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The eyes have it

British scientists have paired video game console cameras with a pair of ordinary glasses to create an eye control device that will allow the severely disabled to use a computer.

These prototype brain interface glasses cost just $65 to produce, but could be priceless for thousands of disabled people around the world. In combination with inexpensive video cameras, the glasses allow users to operate a computer with their eyes, controlling a cursor on a screen just like a conventional computer mouse.

The glasses were created from off-the-shelf materials by PhD student William Abbott and his lecturer Dr Aldo Faisal. Faisal, lecturer in neurotechnology at Imperial College, said: “This system consists of basically two things. One is a device, a piece of hardware which is basically an eye tracking system that William is wearing here on his head. This basically consists of two sets of very fast cameras that record the movements of the eyes and enable us to work out where on the screen William is looking. And the other part of the script is smart software that basically decodes the intentions that William has about interacting with the computer and translates them into commands that enable them to control the computer just by using his eyes.”

The computer is calibrated to ignore involuntary blinking.

“Blinks are not an issue for our system because blinks occur naturally and we want people to behave naturally when they use our system. That’s why all the commands that you issue are done by something that you voluntarily control, namely the wink. For example, in the case of the computer user interface user that we developed you simply look on the screen, the mouse pointer follows wherever you’re looking on the screen, and if you want to interact with an icon or start an application you just wink to click.”

The duo say millions of people suffering from Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, muscular dystrophy, spinal cord injuries or amputees could benefit. They say the technology is much less expensive — and less invasive — than other thought or eye-control devices developed elsewhere. It employs an algorithm that works out the 3D gaze of the subjects — in other words, how far into the distance they’re looking.

Abbott said: “We take this natural eye movement signal because we look where we want to click or we look where we’re going and this means it’s a very natural, intuitive way for people to control disability devices or interact with a computer and we can demonstrate this with real-time control of the classic arcade game ‘Pong’.”

The pair tested students playing the classic Seventies arcade game, using their eyes to hit a ball bouncing on the screen. They say those tested mastered the game within 10 minutes. The device uses just one watt of power and can transmit data wirelessly. Faisal and Abbott say their technology could allow people to control an electronic wheelchair simply by looking where they want to go. It could also be developed to control a robotic prosthetic arm. They hope to interest manufacturers in producing a commercial version of the glasses that could be sold direct to the public, giving the disabled access to a new world of possibilities. (Reuters)

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