Last year, social media practically blew up with videos of folks dumping buckets of ice over their heads. While it was fun to watch or take part in, it wasn’t done all in jest, but instead to raise awareness for a debilitating disease called ALS, or Lou Gherig’s Disease. Sometimes patients with ALS suffer from “locked-in syndrome” in which they are unable to move or communicate verbally as a result of voluntary muscle paralysis. In these cases, oftentimes the only body parts that are functional are the eyes.
While a few eyewear devices have been created to assist ALS patients with locked-in syndrome, they can often be costly and difficult to use. But there’s at least one startup out there that’s working to change things. Isreal-based outfit EyeControl is offering hope to ALS patients and their families with a more affordable and more practical eye-based input device.
The company’s EyeControl glasses will work with a smartphone app to enable true text-to-speech communication with patients. A patient will be able to produce an alert sound when he or she needs help, choose from 15 pre-existing sentences, and even create unique sentences using a virtual board based on the alphabet.
How is this possible? The glasses come equipped with an infrared camera, and use a small integrated computer to identify a patient’s blinks and eye movements. These movements are then interpreted by the computer, and translated into predetermined audio clips that can be transmitted to a smartphone via Bluetooth.
For example, if a locked-in syndrome sufferer was asked “Are you ready for bed?” and moving their eyes upwards meant yes, the camera would detect where the user’s eyes were looking, and interpret the response accordingly, the company explained in a press release.
EyeControl creators have developed a working prototype that is pending patent approval. So far, the device can translate in English and Hebrew, but the company plans on releases more languages in the future. The company has launched an Indiegogo campaign in order to raise the $30,000 needed for additional development and production costs, and after just two days, it has already received over $13,000 in funding.