For individuals with ALS and other motor neuron diseases the loss of speech and the inability to write can be the most traumatizing part of their disorder, a problem several researchers hope to end with the help of new “eye writing” technology.
French researcher Jean Lorenceau, director of research in cognitive neuroscience at CNRS (the French National Centre for Scientific Research) worked with six team members to create a form of cursive that takes advantage of “smooth pursuit eye movements.” Those movements are typically used to track something as it moves, with the right training however those eye movements can also mean a new form of writing.
Lorenceu explained to NBCNews:
“We have an exquisite, fast, and accurate oculomotor system that has a whole repertoire of movements … Too bad that [the oculomotor system] is only used to see and cannot be used to act on the environment. Cursive writing is continuous, curved, and smooth, just as pursuit eye movements are, so [these] eye movements should be suitable for this activity.”
Learning to write with the program can occur in three to five 30-minute training sessions at which point users learn to control their smooth eye muscle movements in order to compose letters with their eyes.
Using an eye tracker, video camera and a connected computer eye movements can be tracked and specialized software can then compile the letters being formed over time, creating a form of “speech” for the user.
Researchers admit that some frustration occurs at first however as users become more comfortable with certain eye movements the practice is just like learning to ride a bike.
The research team is preparing a larger scale test with ALS sufferers and they hope to improve the system with help from outside software and hardware firms.
Earlier technologies have relied on blinking to form letters, a process that can be both tedious and time consuming.
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