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New Technology Gives Freedom to Wheelchair-Bound

For quadriplegics who’ve lost all use of their limbs, life in a wheelchair with a complete loss of independence must be pretty demoralizing.

But new technology aims to give these people freedom to move around without needing help from others.

And you won’t believe how they’re doing it.

At Imperial College in London, computer scientists have created software that allows quadriplegics to move and steer their wheelchairs using…

… their eyes.

Want to Move? Just Use Your Eyes…

The software system uses a special algorithm that decodes users’ eye movement and allows them to move around simply by looking at their intended destination.

Now, there’s an obvious question here: How does the system know whether a person is just looking at something, or wants to move towards it?

I mean, you can imagine the chaos that would ensue if it couldn’t distinguish between the two!

Well, while the team isn’t revealing the secret behind the technology, they say the system can decipher between a mere look at something and a desire to move.

Researcher William Abbott reveals, “We actually move our eyes upwards of three times a second, so there’s huge information there. We essentially track the pupil of the eye and, via a calibration process, we relate that to where the subject is looking in the world around them.”

The system does that with cameras that are trained on both eyes. The visual information then churns through the algorithm, which processes it within a lightning-fast 10 milliseconds. That rapid translation results in almost instant movement.

This marks an upgrade from existing technology, which isn’t nearly as fast and seamless. As co-designer and Imperial College PhD student, Kiruben Pillay, notes, “Current tracking software often uses a screen-based system, where you have a screen open and you look at locations on the screen. The problem with that is that it’s very simplistic and also diverts the user’s attention from the outside world. Therefore, there’s more risk of not noticing obstacles or other things in the way.”

And he says it’s easy to use: “I’m just moving forward by looking to the floor, but exactly at points on the floor that I’d like to go to, and the wheelchair is responding. If I look right, I’ll move there. And if I look left, I’ll move there, as well. It just responds to my gaze and my desired location that I’d like to go to.”

Indeed, when pitched against other similar eye-tracking technologies, able-bodied volunteers managed to move the Imperial College innovation through crowded areas faster and with fewer mistakes.

See how it works in the video below…


New Life for MS Sufferers and Victims of Severe Paralysis

Needless to say, the benefits of such technology are huge.

People with degenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis, or those with crippling paralysis, could gain newfound independence, since they’re usually still able to move their eyes.

And in addition to being easy to use, the team says the software technology is actually quite inexpensive.

Project Chief, Dr. Aldo Faisal, also says it could have even wider uses beyond just helping the disabled…

“You could use it, maybe, one day to drive your car, you could use it to operate a robot, you may be able to use it to fly planes, drones, or spaceships with this type of technology.”


But for now, the technology serves a much more important and useful role, and with trials on disabled patients about to start, the Imperial College team hopes its system could be commercially available within three years.

Martin Denholm

Martin Denholm

, Managing Editor

View More By Martin Denholm