Eye tracking devices measure our eye behavior and predict our gaze points or the locations of the objects in space that we look at. The Eye Gaze System is an eye-operated communication and control system that empowers people with Huntington’s disease and other disabilities to communicate and interact with the world. By looking at control keys or cells displayed on a screen, a user can generate speech by visually typing a message or selecting pre-programmed phrases. Currently, this technology is being used to write books, assist education and enhance quality of life of people with Huntington’s and other conditions. Patients with Huntington’s Disease (HD) have poor muscle coordination and mental decline and behavioral symptoms. The eye-tracking device is especially useful for later stage HD patients when communication is a challenge.
Generally, the Eye Gaze System has a specialized video camera mounted below the screen. The video camera observes one of the user’s eyes and the image processing software analyzes the images sixty times per second to determine where the user is looking on the screen. A user operates the system by looking at rectangular keys or cells that are displayed on the control screen, which then activate. Through visual activation, the array of menu keys and exit keys allow the user to navigate the software independently. Through this eye tracking technology, users can operate lights and appliances remotely, control infrared devices such as televisions and stereos, surf the web and send emails, store and play music, organize and view photos and home movies, read books reading tablet, watch online videos, update social media statuses, and use a word processor to write down their thoughts.
For more sophisticated computer access there are several of the above-mentioned “eye gaze” computer systems on the market. Insurance will only fund an eye gaze system if the individual’s speech therapist can document that it is strictly necessary. Most insurance companies, including Medicare and some private insurance providers, will fund a significant amount of the cost of this device (http://www.infinitec.org/insurance-medicare-and-medicaid-funding-for-assistive-technology). Producers of eye gaze systems include DynaVox (www.dynavoxsys.com), LC Technologies (www.eyegaze.com), Prentke Romich Company, (www.prentrom.com), and Tobii (www.tobii.com). However, following Medicare guidelines, people enrolled in hospice or living at an assisted living facility are not eligible for communication devices.
Nevertheless, there are now other options on the market. Most are not fundable via insurance but some options can be found at a lower price. The Eye Tribe (http://theeyetribe.com) costs $99.00. This software enables eye control on mobile devices, allowing hands-free navigations of websites and apps. (It seems like this software has a different target audience – i.e. mobile phone users? Maybe you could say more about this?) The EyeWriter Project (www.eyewriter.org) is a consumer assembled do-it- yourself kit with free blueprints and material costs at $100. This low cost, open source eye-tracking system allows patients to draw on a tablet using just their eyes. PCEye by Tobii (www.tobii.com/pceye) costs 3,900. The technology replaces the standard mouse, allowing the users to navigate and control a desktop or laptop computer using only their eyes. Vision Key (www.eyecan.ca) costs $4,000 and is the latest eye controlled communication that enables users to type and talk with their eyes. The system gives the users a voice by enabling them to control a speech synthesizer in the VisionKey unit or on the computer by looking at the screen. Users look at a specific word, letter or character on the chart in front of their eye and ‘type’ by holding their gaze until a selection is confirmed by a green highlight and a beep.
In conclusion, eye-tracking technology can be helpful for patients with HD or other disabilities. Eye tracking devices are especially useful for patients who have trouble communicating due to their conditions. The research into these devices continues to develop and as new technology emerges additions will be made to this list.