14 November 2007

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Sarah lives in Cornwall with her parents. She is 20 years old and has been quadriplegic since she was 18 months old. Despite being paralysed from the neck down, Sarah is independent and uses a mouth pointer to type on her PC

Communication by Gaze Interaction (COGAIN) is a project that has gathered together Europe's leading experts in computer-integrated eye tracking. The benefit of their work goes to all citizens with physical motor impairments. Through the integration of existing gaze-based interaction techniques, COGAIN will soon make the use of eye-controlled systems much easier in everyday communication.

Sarah lives in Cornwall with her parents. She is 20 years old and has been quadriplegic since she was 18 months old. Despite being paralysed from the neck down, Sarah is independent and uses a mouth pointer to type and sign documents. She has just started her level 2 qualifications and is hoping to complete a course in web design. She recently volunteered to trial the eye control system COGAIN.

When she switches on her computer a spot the size of a coin appears in the middle of the screen. For thirty seconds she has to follow the spot with her eyes as it moves around. As she does this, infrared lasers and a camera installed in the computer monitor her eye movements. This is the calibration phase. Once this is complete, her eye movements will act like the movement of a mouse. Sarah can choose letters and numbers simply by looking at the keyboard displayed on the screen.

Mick Donegan, of the COGAIN team, is conducting the trial with Sarah. He’s rather satisfied with the results: “COGAIN is meant for people like her who find it difficult to use their hands or find it very difficult to control a keyboard or a mouse but that have got good eye control. That’s the idea behind the tool, to help people who can control their eyes well, to be able to control the computer for writing and communication with their eyes.”

In fact, Sarah writes emails, surfs the web, reads the news online, plays games and keeps up-to-date on her favourite bands. She communicates without the need of an assistant or helper, which allows her greater freedom and independence.

Ten other people in the UK and Sweden are now testing COGAIN.
Eye tracking systems that allow text entry by eye gaze have been in existence for about two decades. However, this technology has only been available to a small portion of the potential user population. Obstacles for more widespread use have included the high cost of equipment as well as the need for prior introductory training. COGAIN can overcome such obstacles.

The fragmented approach to the research activities has so far produced a variety of systems, which are often compatible with only a particular eye-tracking device. COGAIN is working for the standardisation of these systems through their integration.

For a period of five years more than 100 European researchers will work together to develop this new technology. They have financial support from the EU to the tune of 3 million Euros.

Improving the quality of life for disabled people is one of the topics of European care policies. Every year, more than 100,000 people in Europe are diagnosed with a form of motor disease. It is for the benefit of these people that COGAIN aims to bring down the price of eye tracking technology, developing alternatives for everyday use at home and on the move.

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