Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking overcame amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a neurodegenerative disease that confined him to a wheelchair, to communicate his theories on black holes and quantum gravity using a speech-synthesising software operated with his cheek movement picked up by an infrared switch mounted on his spectacles.
Now others with ALS and “locked in” patients — people with normal brain function with an inability to speak or use their limbs — will be able to do the same using a less complicated device. And at a fraction of the cost.
Using seed money from angel investors, Israeli researchers have developed a wearable device called EyeControl that uses eye movement and swipe technology on mobile phones to enable ALS patients to speak using only their eyes.
The device can also give voice to other “locked in” people who have lost their ability to verbally communicate because of other disorders, such as stroke and cerebral palsy. Stroke is among the world’s leading cause of disability, which often includes loss of speech.
“The device has been developed by EyeControl using image-processing and eye-tracking method,” said Tania Suares, head of business development, EyeControl at MEDinIsrael, one of the world’s biggest medical innovation conference in Tel Aviv in Israel.
The lightweight device has an infrared camera connected to a plastic eyeglass frame and a credit-card sized computer that captures and translates eye movements into audio commands.
“These commands are then transmitted to a smartphone or tablet using Bluetooth to help locked in patients communicate using text to speech technology,” said Suares.
The device can anytime and everywhere, even in the bath.
Clinical trials of the prototype are expected to get over by the end of the year, after which the technology will be able to an estimated 1.2 million locked-in patients around the world at a fraction of the cost of the available devices.
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