OptiKey is an open source on-screen keyboard that lets you type and click with your eyes

Typing and clicking on a computer using only your eyes might seem like nothing more than a parlor trick to the everyday user, but to people with neurological disorders, it’s life changing. Julius Sweetland, a 32-year-old software developer in London, has spent the past 3 1/2 years using his spare time to build OptiKey, a free and open-source assistive on-screen keyboard for Windows compatible with low-cost eye-tracking devices.

Up until now, the technology required to enable those with motor and speech conditions like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease) or other motor neuron diseases (MNDs) to communicate in this fashion can cost up to around $20,000. “OptiKey was written to challenge the outrageously expensive, unreliable, and difficult-to-use AAC (alternative and augmentative communication) products on the market,” Sweetland wrote on the GitHub page for OptiKey. “It is, therefore, fully open-source and free. Forever.”

Sweetland says OptiKey can work out of the box with low-cost eye-tracking devices, such as the Tobii EyeX, which costs $139 ($164 with shipping). It’s an alternative to a physical keyboard and can be used to type into any application. OptiKey also features an optional swipe-like functionality, reminiscent of swipe-to-type features found in many smartphone keyboards. So, for instance, typing the word “click” requires the user to select “c,” then glance at “l,” “i,” “c,” and select “k.”

“Basically you don’t have to complete the selections on the middle letters, just the first and last and make sure you ‘touch’ the other letters in between,” Sweetland explained in a well-received Reddit thread he started about OptiKey. “It then matches to the dictionary of known words and phrases.”

An on-screen “Speak” button will convert the inputted words into speech that the computer will say out loud. OptiKey also allows users to click on their screen without using a mouse.

“Maybe releasing this for free will disrupt the market a bit and bring the cost of the ‘off the shelf’ software down. That would be something,” Sweetland wrote in a Reddit comment.

Rather than accepting donations, Sweetland is directing people who want to express their support to a JustGiving page set up to raise funds for Cancer Research UK. He found inspiration to code OptiKey from the death of his aunt, who had an MND. Sweetland recently began testing OptiKey with a patient at the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability.

Emerging Tech

This implant goes beyond pacemakers, helps aging hearts beat more vigorously

The FDA's advisory committee has voted to recommend an innovative pacemaker-style gadget be approved in the U.S. The Optimizer Smart Implantable Pulse Generator boosts performance, strength, and pumping ability of weakened heart chambers.

Today’s best deals: Amazon, Walmart, and Best Buy holiday shopping sales

It's the most wonderful time of the year -- for saving big. Amazon launched its 12 days of deals, and Walmart is countering with its own 20 days of deals countdown. And Best Buy kicked off its 20 Days of Doorbusters.
Emerging Tech

This exotic new material somehow gets thicker when stretched

Scientists at the U.K.’s University of Leeds have discovered a synthetic material which actually gets thicker the more it’s stretched. Here are some of the things it could be used for.
Emerging Tech

Early-detection system for wildfires could save many states from big burns

When it comes to dealing with the growing problem of raging wildfires, a new wireless smart sensor system could help spot burgeoning blazes before they rage out of control. Here's how it works.

Light up the night! Here are the five best headlamps money can buy

Headlamps make all the difference when camping or walking the dog at night, especially when you're in need of both hands. From Black Diamond and Petzl to Coast here are some of the best headlamps on the market.
Emerging Tech

Elon Musk to unveil tunnel elevators and autonomous pods on December 18

We'll soon learn if Elon Musk's high-speed tunnel plan is a serious effort at ending traffic jams or little more than a fancy theme park ride. A big unveiling event is coming on December 18, a week later than originally planned.
Emerging Tech

Hear the sounds of wind on Mars from InSight’s latest audio recording

NASA's InSight craft has captured the sound of the wind blowing on the surface of Mars. The audio file was picked up by the air pressure sensor and the seismometer which detected vibrations from the 10 to 15 mph winds in the area.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Emerging Tech

Feast your eyes on the wildest, most elaborate Rube Goldberg machines ever built

Want to see something totally mesmerizing? Check out several of the best Rube Goldberg machines from across the internet, including one that serves cake and other that do ... nothing particularly useful.
Emerging Tech

The 20 best tech toys for kids will make you wish you were 10 again

Looking for the perfect toy or gadget for your child? Thankfully, we've rounded up some of our personal favorite tech toys, including microscopes, computer kits, and a spherical droid from a galaxy far, far away.
Emerging Tech

Scoot your commute! Here are the 9 best electric scooters on the market

Electric scooters are an affordable, convenient way to minimize your carbon footprint and zip around town. Check out 8 of our current favorites, whether you're working with a budget or have some cash to spare.
Emerging Tech

Sick of walking everywhere? Here are the best electric skateboards you can buy

Thanks for Kickstarter and Indiegogo, electric skateboards are carving a bigger niche than you might think. Whether you're into speed, mileage, or something a bit more stylish, here are the best electric skateboards on the market.

Has Columbus, Ohio raised its IQ yet? A progress report from the mayor

Two years ago, the city of Columbus in Ohio received $40 million to pursue smart city initiatives. So, what’s happened since then? We spoke with its mayor, Andrew Ginther, to discuss progress and what’s ahead.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Folding canoes and ultra-fast water filters

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!