Eye gaze systems, which let you navigate and control your computer by tracking where you’re looking, have the potential to help lots of people, including quadriplegics with limited or no use of their upper bodies. However, using the technology effectively takes a lot of practice.
Recognizing this, Smartbox, a company that creates assistive technology that helps disabled people to communicate and be independent, has introduced new software to help people master eye gaze.
The software, dubbed Look Lab, gamifies the process of learning to use eye gaze systems by offering 38 activities like games and puzzles, music and art exercises, and mindfulness exercises.
Different Ways to Practice
With Look Lab, you can experiment using eye tracking technology to interact with a computer screen in different ways, including hitting targets, dwelling, tracking objects around the screen, and moving the cursor horizontally and vertically.
There are 12 eye gaze skills to practice, such as exploration, cause and effect, sustained attention, horizontal and vertical control, and problem solving.
Games include basketball, ping pong, Zombie Splash (shoot the zombies before they get you), Aliens (similar to Space Invaders), and others. There are puzzles as well, along with creative activities like “playing” a guitar and painting. And if you just want to relax, mindfulness exercises can help you with that.
Who is Look Lab for?
The software has “universal activities that will work with a wide range of ages” from children to adults, said Smartbox Global Partners Account Manager Kim Lawther during a webinar. It’s suitable for anyone using eye gaze access or USB access devices like head pointers.
Look Lab is appropriate for everyone regardless of their experience with eye tracking technology, including those who want to:
Get started with eye gaze and look for ways to practice in a relaxed setting
Progress from early cause-and-effect skills
Improve accuracy and precision skills to help with using more complex grid sets and computer control
Engage in leisure-time activities
Take on more advanced and challenging games
Find new outlets for creative expression
During the webinar, Lawther pointed out that gaming can be a great way to learn a new skill. Look Lab’s software takes full advantage of that, offering a chance to practice using eye gaze in an “engaging, no-pressure way.”
Heat maps show the areas of the screen that you’ve accessed. You can save copies of those heat maps to track your progress over time.
The software currently costs £480, or about $605. It includes a downloadable getting started guide and workbook to support all of the activities.
See Smartbox’s website for more information.
Research Supports Need for Eye Tracking Practice
Studies have shown that even though using eye tracking technology can be challenging, anyone can get better at it with sustained practice.
For example, one study examined eye-gaze control technology as early intervention for a young child with high spinal cord injury without the ability to make sounds.
The young child was followed by repeated measures concerning performance and communication from baseline at 9 months to 26 months, and finalized at 36 months by field observations in the home setting.
Stud results showed eye-gaze performance and frequency of use of eye-gaze control technology increased over time.
The results showed eye-gaze performance and frequency of use of eye-gaze control technology increased over time.
Communicative functions regarding obtaining objects and social interaction increased from unintentional actions to purposeful choices and interactions. At 36 months, a toddler in the study was partly independent in eye gazing, used all activities provided, and made independent choices.
The researchers concluded that a 9-month-old child with profound motor disabilities can benefit from eye-gaze control technology in order to gradually perform activities, socially interact with family members, and make choices.
Eyegaze Can Be Useful Outside the Lab
Eyegaze has proved to be useful for people with spinal cord injuries and others living with paralysis outside of the lab as well.
Sandra Thistlethwaite, a speech and language therapist writing for the United Spinal Association, says eye gaze control can provide a “direct, easier and quicker way to [communicate] than other forms of access.”
Eye-gaze control can provide a “direct, easier and quicker way to [communicate] than other forms of access.” — Thistlethwaite
At the same time, she cautions that the technology is best suited to “the ‘straightforward’ cognitively able student with no visual or learning problems. Students she saw “with more complex learning and sensory needs” had more difficulties, she says.
She adds that at first, eye gaze technology was “fantastic if you have access to and an in-depth knowledge of a lot of software,” but “trickier if you are a busy teacher or therapist without either.”
These problems have been ameliorated by the introduction of “a growing range of specialist eye-gaze titles, with many more in the pipeline, catering for a variety of learners” instead of just experienced users, Thistlethwaite says. TwP