Tomorrow's Power Chairs

Is Eye Gaze Coming to a Power Chair Near You?

Eye GazeEye gaze is nearly an urban legend in the industry — we’ve been hearing about it for years, but no one’s quite sure if it’s powering wheelchairs as of yet.

According to Amy Morgan, PT, ATP, at Permobil, the simple answeris no.

A company out of Norway has developed an eye-gaze driving control. Morgan explains that the control is essentially a single-switch scanner that uses the person’s eye gaze to choose direction. Users simply focus on the direction they want to go next and then depress a switch when they’re ready to go that way.

“In an indoor situation when someone doesn’t have glasses, it works pretty well. I wear glasses. So when I tried to use it, it kept messing up because it wasn’t able to see my eyes because of my glasses. That was a problem for me,” Morgan says.

That same issue arises in outdoor lighting, especially bright sunlight, and any other situation that might prevent the system from seeing a person’s eye gaze.

Fortunately, the driving control has a backup plan. In those situations, the system reverts to a single-switch scanner.

But when it comes to the future and practicality of eye-gaze technology, Morgan is hesitant.

“Eye gaze is great for computer access, for a communication device, things like that. I think we’ve really developed the eye-gaze technology for those uses,” she says. “But as for driving the chair, we’re not there yet, and I’m not sure that we’re going to get there.”

The reason? Morgan doesn’t think the technology is safe.

“The fact is when you’re using it (eye gaze) for communication or for computer access and you look away, you just look away and the mouse doesn’t move anymore,” she says. “When you’re driving, it’s a whole other story. It would go where your eyes go. So if the cursor runs off the screen, that’s not hurting anybody. But if the chair runs off the road because their eyes went in a different direction…”

For Morgan, the cool thing about this particular eye-gaze system is not so much the eye-gaze technology itself, but the integration of features, such as the system’s ability to answer phones and function as a personal computer in addition to being a wheelchair.

Now that level of integration is definitely a possibility for tomorrow’s power chair.

This article originally appeared in the August 2013 issue of Mobility Management.

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