Eye-tracking technology could benefit disabled children

A computer program that could allow children with disabilities to explore their creative side is being developed by researchers at Royal Holloway, University of London.

The team has been working alongside the charity SpecialEffect to design a computer program that uses an eye-tracker to find out exactly how eye movements correspond with the participant’s preferences.

Once a pattern of eye-movements is identified for the user, algorithms manipulate designs on the screen so that they gradually evolve to match each person’s preferences.

The subjects were not told to look for their favourite design, but allowed the computer to ‘read their minds’ through their eye movements.

Dr Tim Holmes, a researcher from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway and developer of the technology, said: ‘The ability to draw or build is something many of us take for granted and it’s an important facilitator of cognitive development. However, even with the computer software to manipulate virtual equivalents of building bricks and crayons, many of these programs remain inaccessible to the physically and mentally disabled.’

Recent developments in assistive technologies have used eye movements as an alternative to standard computer interfaces, such as the mouse, keyboard and joystick.

However, Holmes said this technology goes one step further, by recognising the meaning, or intent, associated with those eye movements, enabling the software to work with the user.

As of today, and running throughout the summer, the researchers will be inviting visitors to the Science Museum as part of the Live Science programme to try out the technology.

Holmes said: ‘The experiment at the Science Museum will enable us to validate this technology using a large and diverse population of users, and also to gather feedback on the user experience. Working with SpecialEffect, we then hope to expand the “dinosaur drawing” program into a more general creative tool, which will allow disabled users to explore their own imagination through virtual toys such as building bricks, moulding clay and line-drawing applications.’