How the new eye-pad will help disabled to spell out their needs
New technology could enable people who have lost the ability to move their arms or legs to communicate freely – by using their eyes to write.
The pioneering software works by tricking a person’s muscles and nerves into doing something that is usually impossible.
This enables patients to voluntarily produce eye movements in arbitrary directions which, in turn, can be used to generate movements such as writing.
Lead researcher Dr Jean Lorenceau, of Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris, said: “Contrary to the current belief, we have found that one can gain complete and voluntary control over eye movements.
“The discovery provides a tool to use smooth pursuit eye movements as a pencil to draw, write, or even generate a signature.”
The break-through offers new hope to patients with limited movement of their arms and legs, including people who have suffered serious spinal injuries.
The French team also say the new eye-driven software could help to improve eye movement control in people with conditions such as dyslexia and attention deficit disorder.
They also say experts who rely on strong and steady eye movements, such as surgeons and sports people, could also benefit from the technique which controls the way the eye can move.
Dr Lorenceau said: “In every-day life smooth pursuit eye movement is used to track moving targets. While people do have the ability to move their eyes in many ways – and in fact our eyes never cease to move – it is normally impossible to control those movements smoothly in any direction.”
The expert said his team first discovered the concept behind the new software by accident.
He was moving his own eyes in front of an unusual visual display in his laboratory when he discovered it produced some “odd effects”.
Dr Lorenceau said: “For one thing, I could see my own eye movements. With a little practice, I gradually discovered that I could control those eye movements too.”
He said the technology relied on changes in movement to trick the eyes into the perception of motion.
He said: “When viewing a changing visual display, people can learn to control their eye movements smoothly. It doesn’t take very much practice either.
“One can also imagine that, in the long term, eye movements can routinely be used in man-machine interactions.”
Now Dr Lorenceau is hoping to test his pioneering eye writer on patients at the start of next year.
Currently patients with limited use of their limbs, such as road accident victims, can use specially designed computers to write using movement and voice control.
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