Nov 232011

Clearly, this is a kid with some serious drive

This unique and worthwhile project was put together by a 17-year-old electronics and programming whiz from Honduras, of all places. The Eyeboard system is a low-tech eyeball-tracking device that allows users with motor disabilities to enter text into a computer using eye gestures instead of a physical interface. This kind of system is not unique – there’s plenty of eye tracking interfaces out there – but Luis Cruz has figured out a way to build the full system into a set of glasses for less than US$300, putting easier communication within reach of users in developing countries. He’s also releasing the software as open source to speed up development. Personally, I spent my year as a 17-year-old in a series of heroic failures trying to impress girls with my air guitar.

Tracking eyeball movements is far from a new science – in fact, people have been studying eye movements for more than 130 years. Early on, the main focus was on understanding how the process of reading works – the way the eyes skip and dart across rows of text to take in written information. Congratulations, you’re now aware that your eyes are jumping from word to phrase to word as you read this article!

While eyeball tracking used to be achieved using painstaking manual mapping of direct observations, more recent technologies have made it much easier and more precise. High-tech contact lenses, for example, can now be used to map and record eye movement to provide data that’s used in everything from driver training to sports development to gaming, virtual reality and medical research. Still, the dominant commercial application by far is in advertising and usability – working out how different designs steer the eye towards a final goal most effectively.

But for people with certain motor disabilities, particularly those who don’t have good control over their hands or voices, eye tracking can take on a much more important role, as a hands-free computer interface that can be a fantastic aid to communication, and a much easier alternative than the head wand or mouth stick, which are used to tap on a keyboard.

Unfortunately, eyeball tracking computer interfaces have proven to be quite expensive on the market – anywhere from several thousand to more than US$10,000 when combined with software. This puts them out of reach of many affected people, particularly in developing countries where that sort of money could represent several years of average earnings.

And that’s where 18-year-old Honduran high school student Luis Cruz is stepping in. Two years ago, Cruz indulged his love of electronics and software tinkering by building a video game system – but in the last 12 months he’s turned his focus to far less teenage pursuits.

Read more . . .
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