Researchers at the University of California San Diego(UCSD) are developing various communication systems that use eye-tracking technologies that will help people with locked in syndrome communicate using the tiny movements they can make only with their eyes.
Locked in syndrome is a medical condition that can occur after a stroke that damages part of the brainstem, leading to the paralysis of the facial and body muscles but somehow leaving the eyes unaffected. Patients with locked in syndrome usually remain conscious of their surroundings but cannot move their bodies to or express themselves through facial expressions. Many of them can only communicate with the limited movements they can make with their eyes.
Now, a group of graduate and undergraduate students at the UCSD's Department of Computer Science and Engineering, under the leadership of research scientist Nadir Weibel, are working on ubiquitous computing technologies that can possibly translate a patient's eye movements into different functionalities.
One of these technologies is EyeHome, a device with a tablet-like interface that patients can use by looking at different parts of the display to communicate what they want to do. For instance, looking at one part of the screen means the patient wants to dictate a message, while another part is for social media use. The researchers are also looking into other functionalities, such as e-book reading and special musical instruments.
One of the patients who have benefitted from the researchers' early technology is Bob Veillete, a Connecticut journalist and jazz pianist who suffered a stroke that rendered him paralyzed in 2006. Earlier this year, the researchers have begun testing their eye-tracking technologies to help Veilette communicate beyond the blinking he had been doing since his stroke.
"I was surprised at his willingness and his openness and the effort he puts into what we are doing," Weibel tells the Press Herald. "We had heard a lot about previous work with the eye tracker and we were a little pessimistic because the prior experiences weren't good, but we found we can get the data we need."
Veilette demonstrated some improvement in "moving" the cursor of the device, but the researchers had to cut short their testing after he suffered from a series of seizures in 2012, which significantly reduced his ability to move his eyes.
Nonetheless, the research team is not giving up, and its members hope a new $300,000 grant from the Moxie Foundation that will help them intensify their efforts to develop new ways to help patients with locked in syndrome live as normal a life as can be.