Millions of people with severe physical disabilities could soon be playing video games for the very first time, thanks to an inexpensive £40 ($62) device that allows its wearer to operate a computer without a mouse or trackpad. Students from Imperial University London have developed a pair of retina-tracking glasses that enables anyone to play a game of “Pong,” an early table-tennis-like arcade game, solely through eye movements. The inexpensive device consists of an infrared light and a webcam that records the movement of a single eye. The webcam is, in turn, linked to software on a laptop, which syncs the player’s eye movements to the game.
Despite the simplicity of their prototype, the students believe the technology can pave the way for more-sophisticated applications, such browsing the Internet or dashing off an email using eye control.
Researchers believe the technology can pave the way for more-sophisticated applications, such as steering a wheelchair.
Unlike other brain- and eye-motion apparatuses on the market, which can cost £27,000 ($41,900), the “GT3D” uses off-the-shelf hardware that clocks in at a reasonably affordable £40 ($65), according to the researchers, who published their findings in the July 2012 issue of the Journal of Neural Engineering.
“Remarkably, our undergraduates have created this piece of neurotechnology using bits of kit that you can buy in a shop, such as webcams,” says Aldo Faisal, a neurotechnology professor who supervised the team. “The game that they’ve developed is quite simple, but we think it has enormous potential, particularly because it doesn’t need lots of expensive equipment. We hope to eventually make the technology available online so anyone can have a go at creating new applications and games with it, and we’re optimistic about where this might lead.”
The students’ breakthrough, Faisal adds, could broaden entertainment options for people who have little movement, such as those living with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, muscular dystrophy, spinal-cord injuries, or amputations. “In the future, people might be able to blink to turn pages in an electronic book, or switch on their favorite song, with the roll of an eye.”
Technicians in his lab are now refining the technology so it can monitor movements in both eyes. Honed correctly, the technology could allow a person to use eye movements to steer a motorized wheelchair or manipulate a robotic prosthetic arm.