Seriously though, a few months ago I did participate in a brain communication study where they hooked me up to a computer and tested its ability to understand my thoughts as a way to communicate using brain waves. It sounds very sci-fi and the reality is that it is unlikely to develop into a portable talking device anytime soon. Therefore, in the interest of going with what's available, my husband and I have been doing some research on the current technologies in eye-tracking and communication devices.
Earlier this month, I tested out the new Tobii PCEye Go device which is small, lightweight, and designed for personal use with a laptop. The device only works with certain Windows operating systems and, since I run a Mac, I had to order a copy of Windows to give the device a thorough test. Once everything was installed, the test began.
The thing I like about the Tobii PCEye Go is that it is designed to operate your entire computer with the blink of an eye. Once calibrated, you can actually choose to use a blink or a long stare in place of a mouse click. The idea behind this is exciting to me, but the reality was a little more frustrating.
First, I had to learn to keep my head still and only move my eyes, which was easy enough. After the calibration, I was ready to take it for test drive. Right away I felt that the sensitivity in the tracking was either too fast or too slow. When I tried to bring up the Internet to do a search, I would hold my eyes steady on each letter and blink but the device would jump to another letter until I settled back to the one I wanted.
This device can offer an exciting connection for many who have been looking for just this type of thing. I believe it has great potential and may work perfectly for the right people, but after a couple of hours of frustration, I realized the device was just not for me. Part of the problem may have been that I was using an operating system I don't normally use but, no matter the reasons, the frustration with the experience outweighed the benefits for me. Also, because it works with a laptop computer there is some ability to have it be portable, but it is not lightweight and won't fit in my purse. We decided to keep looking at the other options.
Purely by coincidence, we were loaned another Tobii product, the MyTobii P10. This is an older, stand alone type of communication device that also works with eye-tracking. Though the system is older, the eye tracking works really well as long as you don't need to look at the edges of the screen. I was able to plug it in, calibrate it, and play tic-tac-toe and chess right away. The blink to click worked really well in the games. The thing is, the games have huge icons on the screen and they are hard to miss. When I tried to type in the search bar for access to the Internet, things got more complicated. When looking at smaller things, like letters and symbols, the eye-tracking does not have the same precision that I expected and the frustration returned. This device is also very heavy and must be mounted on something sturdy for regular use. It is just not what I am looking for.
While I am tempted to be discouraged, I know that there are many companies developing new devices and technologies specifically to utilize eye-tracking. One such company is The Eye Tribe. They are developing eye-tracking technology with the idea that it can be used in any portable and mobile device, like tablets and smartphones. Their first development tablet package will be released in June and my husband is just waiting to get his hands on it to see what he can create that would work best for me, and eventually others like me.
There are obviously many benefits to having better eye-tracking technologies in smaller devices, one being the cost. The estimates for an Android tablet with The Eye Tribe specific eye-tracking software included is under $1,000 - that is a far cry from the $4,000 to $15,000 and up for many of the larger devices available today.
I know that one of the biggest challenges for me personally has been, and will continue to be, slowing down. I am used to typing fast and navigating the computer quickly and smoothly due to many years of experience. I have had to learn to deal with my slow, slurred, mostly incoherent speech while I still talk quick and clear in my mind. I have had to learn to type slower and with different fingers on certain keys because my hands just don't work like they used to. Dan has written, specifically for me, an incredible text-to-speech app that works perfectly, making it so much easier for people to understand me. You would think I would use it all the time, but I don't use it as often as I should because I am slow at typing out all that I want to say. By the time I am ready to hit the "Speak" button, the conversation has moved on.
With better, affordable, and mobile eye-tracking devices available, I am hopeful that I can at least maintain my ability to communicate, albeit slowly, and I will not just become the woman at the table with the pretty blue eyes.