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Teenage Honduran builds open source eye-tracking computer interface for the disabled

By

November 14, 2011

Luis Cruz's Eyeboard - an eye tracking computer interface for the disabled

Luis Cruz's Eyeboard - an eye tracking computer interface for the disabled

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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.

Luis Cruz's Eyeboard - an eye tracking computer interface for the disabled

Cruz has spent the last year building and developing an eye tracking computer interface that works on the principles of electrooculography - that is, measuring the resting potential of the retina using electrodes placed just beside the eyes.

As it turns out, the human eye is polarized - the front of the eye carries a positive charge and the rear of the eye has a group of negatively charged nerves attached to the retina. So when the eye is moved, you can use electrodes to measure the change in the dipole potential of the eye through the skin.

It's a fairly lo-fi input - it doesn't track eye movements with anywhere near the accuracy of a high tech contact lens or video tracking system - but on the other hand, it's extremely cheap, and so uninvasive that Cruz has managed to mount the electrodes in a pair of sunglasses. And it's good enough at tracking macro eye movements to allow the next phase of the project: the computer interface software.

Luis Cruz's Eyeboard - an eye tracking computer interface for the disabled

Although Cruz's sensor glasses can only track horizontal eye movements at this stage, he's developed a piece of software that takes those inputs and uses them to choose letters in a grid, so that users can type entire words using just their eye motions.

The Eyeboard system is still in a fairly embryonic state at this stage, but Cruz believes the hardware can be produced cheaply - as in, his prototypes cost somewhere between US$200-300 for a set of glasses - and he's releasing the software as open source to enable quicker development of tools like autocomplete which will make users' communication even quicker and more fluid. Here's a little more about the effectiveness of electrooculography in computer interfaces.

Clearly, this is a kid with some serious drive - check out his technical documentation for a closer look at the project. If anyone feels like giving Cruz a helping hand, he's looking for PayPal donations to help him towards a college education in America. Given how much he's achieved in Honduras at such a young age, his potential and motivation is clear, even if his home country doesn't afford a lot of opportunities.

We wish Cruz the best of luck and hope to see the Eyeboard project develop into something that can help the disabled community in Honduras and around the world.

What were YOU doing when you were 17?

UPDATE 23/11/2011: The project has now been launched on Kickstarter in an effort to raise funds to bring the Eyeboard to market.

About the Author
Loz Blain Loz has been one of Gizmag's most versatile contributors since 2007. Joining the team as a motorcycle specialist, he has since covered everything from medical and military technology to aeronautics, music gear and historical artefacts. Since 2010 he's branched out into photography, video and audio production, and he remains the only Gizmag contributor willing to put his name to a sex toy review. A singer by night, he's often on the road with his a cappella band Suade.   All articles by Loz Blain
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11 Comments

awesome

Kirill Belousov
15th November, 2011 @ 02:12 am PST

i am trying to get the following message to reach luis cruz ... perhaps he might see it here

hello luis cruz,

thank you so much for what you have built with the eye tracking computer interface ... the future generations will sure too be thankfull for it.

in recent years i was thinking about how can interfaces be truly free and allowing the user to physicly move like one wants to and not how the operating system dictates and i came to think of following concepts what i would be most happy if someone picks them up to engineer something from it

1 ) a next generation mobile computing environment consisting of a camerafree motion capture input, a smartphone processor unit and seetrough dataglasses output

2 ] a mobile dome with kinetic energy harvesting technology integrated to both power the computing as well as to engage the user in physical exercise in order to highten mental and body fitness

the first idea is well laid out in the texts at

i wrote about this idea at

http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=297907130233916

http://mayloveheal.wordpress.com/2010/03/27/post-for-pixel-qi-blog/

http://mayloveheal.wordpress.com/2010/07/02/letter-to-playmadeenergy/

http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/mimssbits/27063/#comment-234913

http://www.technologyreview.com/business/38173/page1/#comment-234915

and the second idea mostly at

http://mayloveheal.wordpress.com/2009/01/14/my-wish-of-a-virtual-reality-interactive-game-creation-and-playing-dome-with-energy-harvesting-features-and-also-communicationexchange-evolution-goals/

please let me know if i can supply more material in this direction

with best wishes

andreas buechel

Andreas Buechel
15th November, 2011 @ 02:29 am PST

of all places?! wtf does that mean? No smart people in the Honduras?

Shawn Jenkins
15th November, 2011 @ 04:41 am PST

Great.

Anumakonda Jagadeesh
15th November, 2011 @ 09:11 am PST

"of all places?! wtf does that mean? No smart people in the Honduras?" My take exactly. until I read Loz Blain was playing air guitar at the same age...in one of the Americas of all places. It was a good hook line at the beginning of the article though.

Glad to know there are still Tinkers on this planet. Hope you go to the collage of your choice, Luis. Thank you for thinking and doing. This will make it a great deal easier for many to communicate.

onearth1hominid
15th November, 2011 @ 10:59 am PST

Great idea!

Edgar Castelo
15th November, 2011 @ 11:00 am PST

Computers are used for almost everything these days, most people should learn how to use a computer. If you don't know how a computer works, this article gives a great explanation on how a computer works.

http://explainlikeakid.blogspot.com/2011/10/computer-parts-and-what-they-do.html

Facebook User
15th November, 2011 @ 03:21 pm PST

"of all places" hmm

I'd like to suggest kickstart.com for this clever lad

Mic
15th November, 2011 @ 06:17 pm PST

Great Kid !!! Time to Grow this up!!!

Babu Nizam.K.
15th November, 2011 @ 08:22 pm PST

Kudos to Luis Cruz - not merely for his technical skills, but for his decision to employ them in this particular area. Chapeau bas !...

Henri

mhenriday
18th November, 2011 @ 04:12 am PST

he got a kickstarter project now going

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/lcruz/the-eyeboard

Andreas Buechel
23rd November, 2011 @ 12:29 pm PST
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