If you’ve ever sat in a wheelchair and tried to push yourself around by turning the wheels with your hands, you know it’s harder than it looks. It takes a ton of arm strength, and my heart goes out to anyone who has to rely on that type of transportation.
Of course there are also power wheelchairs, and even some high tech ones that are controlled with Google Glass or your mind. Most of the time these require wearing ridiculous headsets or gear that nobody would want to wear on a daily basis.
Until now, there hasn’t been a simple, realistic daily solution for people to control their wheelchairs (steer them) if they don’t have the use of their arms. That is all about to change though, thanks to Dr. A. Aldo Faisal and his team at Imperial College London.
According to the Imperial College London website, “Their work involves developing an algorithm-based decoder system that enables wheelchair users to move around simply by looking to where they want to travel. The system is inexpensive, easy to use and could transform the lives of people who are unable to use their limbs.“
Since the eye-tracking software can react within ten milliseconds, the movement of the wheelchair feels like it happens in real-time, based on where the user looks.
You may be wondering if the wheelchair would be able to distinguish between casually looking around and a deliberate look intended to change the direction of the wheelchair. It is able to do that.
Although all of the techie details haven’t been released yet, my guess is that the tech works similarly to winking in order to take a picture with Google Glass. The Google Glass wink has to be deliberate, and Glass can distinguish between a ‘regular wink’ and a ‘picture wink.’ Similarly, this wheelchair can make the same distinction regarding the user’s ‘look’.
For now, the only thing the team is revealing is that they have made significant improvements to existing eye-tracking technology. In the video below, Dr. Faisal goes on to explain that this technology could be used for a lot more than just eye-tracking wheelchairs. It could also be used to possibly drive a car, operate a robot, or even direct drones and spaceships.
This fascinating tech will be ready for commercial use in about three years. So cool!
YouTube: ‘Eye-tracking wheelchair helps the severely disabled steer new course’ by Reuters