Patients without the ability to use their limbs, type, pick up a pen, or even speak may now have a new way to communicate. Researchers in France have developed a system that allows users to write in cursive on a video monitor using only their eyes. By developing this method for translating eye movements into writing on a screen, Dr. Jean Lorenceau of the Universite Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris has advanced the possibilities for stroke sufferers, spinal injury patients, and people with degenerative diseases who have no other means to communicate.
Lorenceau successfully overcame a common and difficult physiological problem called saccadic eye movements. This occurs when you try to move your gaze smoothly across a stationary object, and instead find your eyes jumping from one point to another. This is called “saccading”. These smooth eye movements are reserved for following moving objects, and although normal, it creates problems for the researchers attempted to create ways of eye writing.
Lorenceau’s technique tricks the body’s circuitry system by using a flickering screen, so the brain thinks its following a moving object, and the eye movements the patient makes smooth. The device will then translate the eye motions created by the patient into cursive writing.
Lorenceau has been selected along with a company and a programer to parter with a physician caring for ALS patients so that the device may be developed further. Beyond this though, Lorenceau believes his device could helpful for children with oculomotor deficits, or even athletes and artists. “Although speculative, these ideas will be tested in the near future.” says Lorenceau.
“Maybe more import an is the fact that cursive eye writing provides personal and creative means of expression,” says Lorenceau. It allows people to achive shades of meaning not available on a menu. “What if the figure you wish to dra is not in this repertoire,” he said, “[such as] the drawing of a heart to indicate you love something?”
There are other forms of communicating directly with the eyes but they are not as ambitious. They allow a user or patient to select choices from a menu and put them in a sequence to achieve their communication goal.
Write with your Eyes