New software allows the physically disabled to click with their eyes

New software allows the physically disabled to click with their eyes

Communicating from the inside to the outside for people like Stephen Hawking requires special technology.

For those who can't click a mouse or tap a screen, new breakthrough technology puts the power of the computer in the eye of the beholder.

The software has been designed by computer science lecturers at the University of Auckland -- Dr Christof Lutteroth and Dr Gerald Weber -- and is nominated for a HealthTech Award.

"In New Zealand alone there are more than 200,000 people who are agility impaired, so they can't easily use a mouse or a touch pad," says Dr Lutteroth. "To enable these people to interact with computers you need something else."

Eye gaze technology figures out where on the screen someone is looking, so the eyes trigger clicks and scroll the page instead of your hands. But until now the technology has been slow and inaccurate.

"So we've developed this new technique called Actigaze, which comes close to the mouse in speed and accuracy, and that's really a breakthrough," says Dr Lutteroth.

Users simply look from the link they want to open across to the appropriate colour on the side of the screen, and a mere glance will open the link.

"I actually think it's really easy to get used to," says University of Auckland student Alyssa Ong, who's working on using Actigaze in information kiosks.

"You just need to understand the colour association, and the speed is really quick, so you just look at the link and then look at the button."

"When you use Actigaze for a few minutes you don't want to use a mouse again," says Dr Moiz Penkar, who worked as a PhD student on the Actigaze project. 

The project is supported by MedTech CoRE and was first designed for people with quadriplegia and other major disabilities, but Dr Lutteroth believes it'll be in common use for anyone in the next two years -- for surgeons who don't want to touch a screen while in theatre, for RSI sufferers, or someone who's in the middle of baking and needs to scroll down a recipe without washing their hands.  Even drivers could use it to change radio station without taking their hands off the steering wheel.

Actigaze gets its first public release in early July on the Google Chrome Web Store at a cost of $5 to $10, which will be used to fund future development.

Users will currently need an eye gaze tracker, but in the near future Dr Lutteroth hopes all devices will have inbuilt eye gaze technology and people will just need to download the app.

Actigaze is one of eight projects nominated for the HealthTech Award.  The winner will be announced tomorrow.