Eye tracking devices can help people with mobility disabilities meet the challenges of communicating and interacting with the world. The devices allow a computer to be controlled using only eye movements, which can be critical when a person is unable to use a mouse or keyboard. The process, called gaze interaction, uses eye tracking technology to determine exactly where the user is looking on the computer screen or within special eye tracking glasses.
Eye tracking works by illuminating the eyes with an infrared light source, and capturing the reflections on the cornea and off of the retina with cameras. The data gathered is used to create a 3D model of the user’s eyes and then calculate where the user is looking and the position of the user’s eyes in relation to the computer screen. Control software then enables a person to use eye movements to access nearly anything that a mouse or other controller would normally be used to access.
Tasks such as web browsing, typing, making phone calls, speaking, and playing computer games can be accomplished, which would be difficult or impossible for some people to do alone without an eye tracking device. The technology may benefit people with ALS, spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy, autism, as well as people who have had strokes or have their mobility significantly limited.
In a video by Tobii, a manufacturer of eye tracking devices, former BMX Gold Medalist Stephen Murray describes and demonstrates how the device has changed his life since suffering a spinal cord injury in a bicycle accident.
“Without knowing it, my privacy just got taken away from me through my injury.” He adds, “Although it’s awesome to have somebody help you in so many different cases, a lot of that stuff is my private stuff that I don’t really want to share with people.” Stephen and his father explain that a difficult part of his injury was losing his independence and that an eye tracking device has been able to restore it for Stephen. “It seriously changed my life. This technology is like an antidepressant because it pulled me out of a hole and it put me back in the driving seat.”
Advancements in areas like eye tracking and investments in technology that improves people's lives are fueling the aggressive growth of the assistive technology market.