Eye-controlled wheelchair breakthrough could help thousands of disabled people

Unveiling new technology which allows disabled people to control their electric wheelchairs by simply moving their eyes.

The breakthrough could help severely disabled people who up until now have not been able to move independently.

This research, led by Dr Prashant Pillai, developed a unique eye controlled robot last year. But after months of completely rewriting the software involved, they have now discovered how to apply this to an electric wheelchair and have made huge improvements to the technology.

Dr Pillai said: “We really had to go back to the beginning to make the technology work for electric wheelchairs. We are really excited by how well our prototype is working and have managed to reduce the reaction time from when the eye movement takes place down from a few seconds to just a few milliseconds – which will feel instantaneous for the user. We have also made the headset completely wireless.”

The technology works by the user wearing a tracking device on their face  – like a pair of glasses – which has a small camera on it. The camera sends a signal to a central unit via infra-red LEDs, precisely tracking eye movement right down to the exact position of the iris, which then relays the message to the electronics of the wheelchair. Users simply look in the direction they wish to travel and the wheelchair responds.

Developed by the Future Ubiquitous Networks research team from the University of Bradford’s School of Engineering, Design and Technology, which is led by Prof. Fun Hu and Dr Prashant Pillai, the system has been named IRIS – Intelligent Recognition for Interactive Systems.

The team now intend to refine the technology further, then consult with disability groups to carry out user testing. They are hoping to attract external investment to allow them to further develop it and take it to market.

There are further opportunities to develop the technology to other electrical items in the home, and potentially removing the need for a headset completely, allowing wall mounted cameras in the user’s home to pick up eye movement and wirelessly relay instructions to the technology used. The longer term aspiration is to work towards a fully assisted home, where a user could just look at their television, lighting or music equipment to switch it on.

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