RJ Sangost/The Denver Post
DENVER (AP) – Scott Abram’s eyes lock on the corner of the computer screen offering him the letter “G.” His cursor, directed only by those eyes, lingers there as he stares the requisite 1.5 seconds.
With that, an entire brain trust of engineering students, professors and paralysis experts breathes an audible sigh of relief.
“Yea!” murmurs University of Denver computer science engineer John De Witt. The letter “G” appears in the word Abram is writing, thanks to an eyeglass camera that reads his pupil movements. And a year of all-nighters by DU students has just paid off, in front of real patients and rehabilitation specialists at Craig Hospital.
The DU seniors set out a year ago to fill a gap in adaptive technology, hoping to build “eye writer” glasses for $100 instead of the $7,000 to $12,000 models currently on the market. The glasses allow a paralyzed patient with no arm or head movement to use a computer as others would – writing, clicking and browsing Web pages.
The seniors, who now are finalists in a national product engineering competition, also have overcome limitations on existing cameras. Their software can counteract head movements that disrupt the camera’s reading of a user’s eyes.
“If all you can use is your eyes, it doesn’t matter what ailments you have. If you can move your eye, you’re good,” said Peter Neilson, one of the four seniors who built the glasses as their capstone engineering project.
Neilson, De Witt, Jordan Rath and Jeff Evans brought versions of their eyeglass cameras to Craig earlier this month to both demonstrate and learn. Patient feedback is key: Some camera versions are too heavy for some disabled patients’ weakened muscles; some patients prefer looking at an on-screen keyboard to pick letters while others want software that can auto-complete their words.
Each time they demonstrate, they discover more essential keyboard commands that must somehow be replicated by eye movements. An eyeball can choose and “click” on a Web icon by lingering on it, but how to “scroll down”? Look off the bottom of the screen? Some kinks are still being worked out.
But the students’ promise of cheaper and better already is being fulfilled, Abram concluded after trying it.
“I’ve seen the other commercial eye systems, and this one is on par with them,” said Abram, a former spinal cord patient who now works at the Department of Interior.
David Switala, an inpatient for treatment of partial paralysis after a sudden illness, said the eye-movement readers could prove more useful than the voice-command software he’s trying. To get a cursor to one click-point with voice takes repeated commands based on ever-shrinking grids, and is tedious. Pointing the eyeballs is so much faster, he said.
“This could be much more precise,” he said.