Controlling computers at the bat of an eyelid

Controlling computer by the Memrec

Computers are an essential part of many people's lives these days but there are many who are unable to use their hands to operate a computer mouse and keyboard. People with disabilities improvise with various methods, such as pressing the keys with a pencil held in their mouth. Scientists around the world have been trying to develop instruments that could translate the movements of one's eye to control a computer but the fruits of the research have always been too big, clumsy and expensive. Now a team from the Czech Technical University in Prague have come up with a solution that is simple, lightweight and affordable.

Imagine having to put on diving goggles or have electrodes attached all over your face every time you want to use a computer. Thanks to Czech scientists this should soon be a thing of the past. Their invention looks breathtakingly simple and was inspired by observing real life.

Lenka Lhotska,  photo: Pavla Horakova
"The original idea came from my colleague Marcela Fejtova who works with disabled children. When she saw how difficult it is for them to control a computer, we started to discuss ways to enable these children and, of course, adults with similar disabilities, to use computers,"

...says Lenka Lhotska from the Czech Technical University, one of the three co-authors of the Memrec, or Mobile Eye Movements Recorder research project, run by the Gerstner Laboratory. She explains how the instrument works.

"We use a very small camera, approximately one cubic centimetre small, that is attached to normal glasses, and the signal, that means the image of the eye, is transferred to a small black box where all the eye movements are evaluated and translated into control commands for the computer."

So wherever you look on the screen, the cursor follows your glance. If you want to click on an icon, you just close your eyes for a period longer than the usual blinking. Texts can be written by eye-clicking on the characters of an integrated software keyboard.

The Gerstner Laboratory has already applied for a patent and also found a potential manufacturer. Hopefully, within a year, the product could be on the market at an affordable price.

"Of course, in the meantime we are preparing several prototypes for medical clinics, especially for neurologists, to test this equipment on their patients, so that they can also tell for which disabilities it can be used,"

...says Lenka Lhotska to point out that the device can also be used in medicine: to help diagnose dyslexia in children or to help rehabilitation of eye-muscles after injury or operation. Although developed originally to enable disabled people to operate computers, the special glasses can be used for hands-free control in dirty or dangerous environments.