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  • Writer's pictureGregan McMahon

The Eyes Have It - Eye Gaze Technology and Smart Homes

We've talked a lot over the course of the past few weeks about using voice commands or apps to allow people living with disabilities control their home environments.

And it's great being able to use your voice to turn lights on and off, to set the temperature of the air conditioning, to be able to be able to tell your smart home hub to remind you at 10am next Thursday that the physio will be there at 12.

But I've recently met a couple of clients who are in electric wheelchairs and who are non-verbal and struggle with fine motor skills. They obviously have a need to be able to control their environments, but without being able to use their voice to tell the home hub, or their fingers to tap in an app, how do they manage?

One solution can be Eye Gaze Tracking Technology.

Eye Gaze devices use a series of cameras that measure and interpret where a person is looking on a computer or table screen in front of them. They can essentially use their gaze as a "mouse", moving their eyes to point and then blinking to "click" on the screen.

A person can then type by looking at and clicking on letters on a keyboard on screen. Commonly used sentences and phrases can be pre-programmed and filed in folders on the home screen.

These words, phrases and sentences are then converted to speech by specialist software running on the computer or tablet.

Interestingly, while researching this technology, I discovered that the science of studying eye-tracking dates back to the mid-1800s, when it was mainly used to determine how people read and comprehend written text.

For the past decade or so, eye-tracking has been used in web site design to create heat maps determine which elements of a web page people look at most.

However like much of the assistive and "smart" technology we deal with, it's only been in the last few years that the power and capability of the software and hardware have improved enough to make eye gaze tracking reliable enough for everyday use by people with disabilities.

And over the same period the cost of the technology has come down such that it is now much more affordable for people with disabilities.

I recently met with a client whose condition means that while he is in a powered wheelchair, most of the time he is able to use his voice and his hands without any problem to control, but occasionally he has episodes which leave him non verbal and unable to use his hands. During these episode he relies on an eye-gaze device to communicate.

I was worried that this would leave him unable to control his smart devices using a Google home - as it's "keyed" to his voice.

The solution, get Google to recognise the voice generated by the text to voice software as a member of his household so he can use the eye gaze device to selected "Hey Google, turn on TV", the the text to voice software says "Hey Google, turn on TV" and Google turns on the TV.

I reckon that's pretty smart!.

Thanks for listening.


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