With your eyes only

A device designed to allow even the most severely disabled to operate a computer could also be used by fighter pilots to aim weapons using only eye movement.

The Look Device, being developed at Ulster University, is based on a set of customised glasses that enable the user to operate a computer cursor by moving their eyes.

Sensors built in to the glasses follow the person’s eye movements and transmit this information to an attached interface. This then translates the data into a set of digital signals that control the cursor, said the device’s designer Jesus Lopez, a researcher at the university.

The device will enable disabled people to send e-mails, browse the Internet and write documents and spreadsheets, and is suitable for those with even the most severe physical impairment, said Lopez.

Although only at the early prototype stage the device is cheap to produce, and once the researchers have ensured its reliability Lopez said it could also have a range of uses in the military and entertainment industries, such as computer gaming. ‘Military pilots have to use a large number of controls while they are flying, and this technology could enable them to use just their eyes to activate their weapon-aiming systems,’ he said.

Meanwhile, researchers from the University of Alcalá in Spain have produced a system that allows facial movements to be used to control an electric wheelchair.

It is able to operate with different skin types and can also ignore involuntary movements. Using a colour CCD micro-camera located in front of the user, the facial expressions are digitised by a frame-grabber and loaded into a PC’s memory.

A software algorithm then analyses the skin and its shape to determine the direction of head movement. That movement is then translated into speed and direction commands for the chair. The vision system is able to process up to 15 images per second, enabling up to 10 commands to be issued every second to the chair’s motor controller.