Eye-gaze is a method of accessing the computer generally adopted by children and adults whose eye control is their most efficient and reliable movement. Eye gaze, eye control, gaze interaction, eye tracking or eye gaze control are some of the terms used to refer to this access method.
How Can I Choose The Best Computer For Me? (PDF Download) This article covers considerations for buying your own computer (tablet, laptop, desktop) to use with assistive technology, highlighting Grid 3 and IntelliGaze.
Eye Gaze in the Classroom
The webinar below covers considerations when starting with Eye gaze for students in the classroom. [This video is now a little dated as some of the camera models and software have new versions and changes to models. The ceoncepts of choosing between a system you assemble yourself or a specialised system that is supplied complete remain the same.]
Assistive technology computers come in the form of speech generating devices (SGD), adapted tablets, notebooks and desktop computers. Assistive technology computers provide a range of features and functions for communication with voice output, use of mainstream software, use of specialised software and control of home appliances e.g. TV and any combination. Therefore eye gaze can provide the means of control of any or all these computer functions.
Zyteq offers three different eye gaze cameras specifically designed and developed for eye gaze access. There are other brands available in Australia and new manufacturers are entering this market. This section addresses only the eye gaze cameras offered through Zyteq.
It can be difficult to understand which camera is most suitable for an individual and their needs. The cameras appear to be quite similar and perhaps price point is the most evident variable. This section provides further guidance to help differentiate between the eye gaze cameras.
As with all Assistive Technology the starting point for evaluation and selection is the individual; the child or adult who will be using it. An eye gaze camera is one part of a system. The system is a “tool”. A tool is an instrument for doing, achieving, making….for a purpose. The eye gaze cameras available from Zyteq are allsupplied with their own driver and set-up software. These items together with any additional software (for example communication software) or hardware make up the “eye gaze system”.
Assistive Technology computers come in the form of speech generating devices (SGD), adapted tablets, notebooks and desktop computers. Assistive technology computers provide a range of features and functions for communication with voice output, use of mainstream software, use of specialised software and control of home appliances e.g. TV and any combination. Therefore eye gaze can provide the means of control of any or all these computer functions.
The Person and Purpose
There are a few key uses for eye gaze as follows:
1. Full computer control - alternative to keyboard/mouse and touchscreen
For an individual who uses mainstream software on a Windows computer, eye gaze control can provide an effective and comprehensive alternative to the standard input methods if the use of a mouse or keyboard is not efficient or possible. People with a range of diagnoses may fall into this category, whether acquired or developmental and regardless of age. This type of computer user is likely to rely on the computer for work, study and leisure, for email, internet, word processing, website maintenance, music, e-books, news and so on. Eye gaze control software supplied with the camera provides an on-screen keyboard for entering text and alpha-numeric characters and mouse controls for selecting items on the screen. It also provides access to settings for the eye gaze camera to help adjust settings for the individuals needs. These eye gaze controls work with almost any other software.
To use eye gaze for full-computer control as described, no additional software is required. The Alea IntelliGaze and EyeTech TM5 mini are supplied with the driver, on-screen keyboard and mouse controls required. These cameras and their accompanying software are designed to work together to assist the user with accuracy and selection. The Alea IntelliGaze provides “Blickfang”. This feature interacts with the user’s gaze selections to snap the cursor to the centre of the selected icon, providing an efficient, smooth and accurate selection method. The EyeTech TM5 mini offers its computer control software, QuickACCESS eye mouse software, which is ideal for the power computer user.
Once the initially installation and customisation has been completed, Both the IntelliGaze and EyeTech TM5 mini offer complete control of the computer system by the eye gaze user. The eye gaze control will start immediately once the system has been switched on and does not require assistance from others to be operated.
These types of sophisticated facilities differ markedly from ‘mouse control”, which is simply the cursor “floating” and "moving" where the eye gaze is directed around the screen. Further explanation will follow. Example 1: an adult who runs an accounting business uses the computer for work everyday. Computer use regularly involves cloud based accounting software, online government taxation portal, word processing, spreadsheets, email and so on. This person is diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease and over time finds using the standard keyboard and mouse very difficult. In order to continue working, alternative access methods are implemented and finally eye gaze is selected as the most efficient, non-fatiguing and independent computer access method.
Example 2: a teenager with a diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy has been using a single switch and scanning to access a computer for many years. As the teenager increases computer activities for university work, socialising and to maintain a website the repetitive movements required for the switch access cause physical stress and pain. Eye gaze may provide an alternative access method which only requires eye movement. The switch access method can also be available as a “back-up” option.
2. Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC)
For an individual who has Complex Communication Needs (CCN) a Speech Generating Device (SGD) may be used for voice output communication (speaking out messages), and for additional forms of communication such as email, Skype and social media. A specialised portable computer-based device can offer these forms of communication and can accompany the user wherever the device may be required. Operating (or accessing) the device should be independent, non-fatiguing and as efficient as possible. Eye gaze is available as an access method for SGDs. The eye gaze camera may be in-built and designed as part of the device, or it may be added onto the main device. The entire system will need to be mounted so that the correct positioning for eye gaze can be established. If a person is sitting in a wheelchair, lying in a bed or reclined in a lounge chair, for example, the system will need to be set-up and positioned correctly for eye-gaze to be successful as an access method for communication. The device will need to run suitable software which is compatible with the eye gaze camera and the AAC requirements of the user.
The software we offer is The Grid 3 and Mind Express 4. Both programs offer the Alea Intelligaze and Eyetech TM5 as integrated access/input methods. These cameras and programs are designed to work together. Both The Grid 3 and Mind Express 4 offer communication grid sets which can use symbols to represent the words or phrases.Whole words, stored phrases and text can also be used to generate the messages. The grid set used for communication is typically customised for the individual’s communication in conjunction with his or her language level, development and goals. These programs can also be used for computer control in their on-screen keyboard modes (as described in No. 1). The camera’s own software can also be used in conjunction with communication software to enhance access to additional programs installed on an SGD.
Example 1: a 7 year old boy with a diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy, has been learning to use a head switch for access to a Speech Generating Device. He has trialled eye gaze as an access method and found that this is a reliableaccess method for communication and computer operation. He will trial a complete system, the Mobi 3 IntelliGaze and Grid Pad Eye 13 which will provide communication displays using symbols and also text so that he can start spelling messages using his developing literacy skills. The Tellus 4 Intelligaze offers switch /scanning access in addition to eye gaze access via the Intelligaze camera. The Tellus 4 Intelligaze also has internet access and can run other Windows software so this system can be used for general computer use for education, leisure and social media purposes. In taking a 3 to 5 year view, this system offers content options which can be adapted and implemented as his language and literacy skills develop. Access options are flexible so that he does not need to abandon his "old" access method. Mostly he will use eye gaze access however in some situations he may opt for switch/scanning access.
3. Early learning - entry level eye-gaze
This is the newest application of eye gaze access. Up until recently various activities such as computer games, switch operated toys, switch adapted appliances, e.g. blender to make a smoothie, have been used to provide opportunities for individuals to experience cause and effect. These activities also involve the physical component of activating a switch or touchscreen, which may be an additional skill (motor movement or pattern) to be learned. Eye gaze offers an access method for early learning, which removes some of the physical elements. Vision, interest in the screen content and other factors remain important considerations..
Eye-gaze as an access method for early learning offers new avenues for leisure, education and practising of an access method for later use incommunication. Programs such as Look to Learn, Look to Learn: Scenes & Sounds, Inclusive Eye Gaze Attention & Looking and Dotty Games software provide entry level activities. These activities start with large targets and are based on “cause & effect”. Calibration is not required and adequate accuracy can be achieved using the calibration results of another person. This software only requires ‘mouse control’. Analysis tools are also included to indicate gaze patterns, accuracy and other feedback. The eye gaze system with suitable software may provide fun, engaging activities and games for the user as a leisure option. The individual may develop eye gaze skills through these games and activities that may later become the access method for communication. Steps towards communication may include the use of "errorless" communication activities, "sequenced" communication activities, social scripts, talking photo albums and so on. It is important that developing access skills do not limit communication. To use Pat Mirenda and David Beukelman's TODAY / TOMORROW model, the individual should have a "today" system which "meets the person's immediate needs within the available opportunities and that is accurate, efficient, and non-fatiguing." The TOMORROW system is a concurrent plan to develop the individual's skills to enable more "communication needs to be met / or to maintain or increase accuracy, efficiency, and ease of use of the current system."
The Alea IntelliGaze and Eyetech TM 5 can be used for entry level eye gaze, in addition to the other uses described here. You may have heard about the MyGaze camera which is no longer available. It was unique in the market in that it was intially released to address the needs of the client ecperiencing early learning.
Example 1: a 12 year old girl diagnosed with Rett Syndrome, who currently uses her whole hand to activate a Step-by-Step communication device for greetings, questions and day-to-day messages. Her direct access with her hand limits her communication opportunities. Other switch sites have not been an option. She has tried eye gaze at the entry level with cause & effect software quite successfully. The analysis indicates she could look around the entire screen to make selections. She was also starting to use the "dwell" function which required her to maintain her gaze for 1 to 2 seconds on a target to select it. This is the eye gaze skill required to use a communication display. Her team is deciding which eye gaze equipment to pursue. They may buy an IntelliGaze Starter Edition camera for use immediately so that she can start using and practising her eye gaze skills. The ultimate goal will be to upgrade the software of the IntelliGaze camera to use on an existing desktop computer for communication using The Grid 3 software. The long term goal would be to move towards a portable system she can take with her, mounted on her wheelchair, probably the Mobi 3 IntelliGaze and Grid Pad Eye 13.
SUMMARY: How to choose an eye gaze camera
- Work out how the system will be used. What will the person be using it for?
- Investigate the software for the purpose, ensure that is eye-gaze compatible. At the ‘entry level’ eye gaze, software may well work with the eye gaze cameras in ‘mouse control’ mode. The software listed above is specifically designed to assist with developing eye gaze skills, with graded activities. For communication some companies have developed their own software and only that company’s eye gaze camera will work with the software. So, in investigating which software and cameras work together, start with the task and software. Next check the compatible cameras.
- Try the eye gaze camera. The key to successful eye-gaze is the positioning of the camera in relation to the individual. Special mounting equipment may be needed. Be aware that many factors can be variables in trying eye gaze. The most important point is to try more than one camera. For all uses of eye gaze we have found that an individual may try one camera and find it is adequate, but then try another and find it easier to use which gives a feeling of increased accuracy and smoother operation. One camera may have operational features which are preferred. Some cameras respond to different types of eye colour or individual differences. One camera may be more accommodating of movements, natural light indoors or other issues relating to environment or person. At Zyteq, our aim is to ensure that an eye gaze trial provides every opportunity for success. For this reason we have terms and conditions around our trials.
Eye Gaze Trial options:
It is important for an individual to try eye gaze to see if it is suitable. A small range of cameras are available commercially. Assistive Technology Services around Australia may have eye-gaze cameras which can be trialled. It is usually best to try eye gaze with the assistance of a clinician or clinical team with knowledge and expertise in eye gaze, and seating and positioning. Suppliers of eye-gaze cameras may be able to provide these services also. Zyteq offers Eye Gaze Days for centres, schools and services and general appointments in specific regions.
EyeTech TM5 & Alea IntelliGaze
Zyteq is the Australian dealer for IntelliGaze and Eyetech TM5 mini. These cameras are available for hire to schools with accompanying training, for short-term hire to trial for AAC as a Speech Generating System. This is also available for short-term hire (maximum 4 weeks) to schools and centres. A key contact person (Occupational Therapist, Speech Pathologist, appointed teacher) will need to have the computer skills and internet access to download and install the software on a nominated computer, and be able to participate in a 30 minute Skype training session.
How it works:
A highly sophisticated eye gaze camera is positioned underneath a computer monitor, tablet or communication device. The operator usually sits in front of the computer monitor and eye gaze camera, permitting the camera to calculate eye movements. The operator looks at the target on the screen, and uses dwell time, eye blink, or switch activation to select the item. The items on the screen may be a message to speak out, text to type into a document, activating a TV control, a video PLAY button or any other software element. The Intelligaze CAM30NT and Tobii PCEye cameras offered by Zyteq have been developed with assistive technology application in mind. However it's not just about the camera.
Three essential components:
The three essential components of an effective and efficient eye gaze system are:
- The high quality eye gaze camera: these are cameras that have been a specially developed for this purpose. They are much more sophisticated than web cams.
- The interface or software: Alea Technologies (Germany) and Tobii (Sweden) have developed specific interfaces to use with their cameras. Onscreen keyboards and mouse controls (as part of these specific interfaces) provide access to mainstream programs. Other software, for example Grid 2, is also developed to be compatible with the specific eye gaze cameras available. Alea Technologies is known for its highly specialised and elegant Desktop V2 0 interface which provides full computer access, in addition to access to camera controls so the user can adjust settings.
- The person and positioning: the eye-gaze cameras are generally not adjustable and so it is the correct positioning of the person and the mounting of the equipment in relation to the camera that are critical for successful eye gaze.
What it is not:
Eye-gaze does not require head movement. Inadvertent head-movement can be accommodated by the Intelligaze and Eyetech TM5, however, only eye-movement is required to control the computer. Head-tracking is a different form of access where the mouse cursor is controlled on the screen by head movement. On the Tellus 5, for example, the in-built web cam can be used for head tracking access. Movement from the shoulders and head is required to move the mouse cursor. The Tellus 5 IntelliGaze and Mobi 3 IntelliGaze and Grid Pad Eye 11 and 13 utilise the IntelliGaze eye gaze camera. Tellus 5 IntelliGaze offers both the head tracking and eye gaze. Tracker pro is a different USB device which is a high resolution intelligent camera. A reflective dot is worn on the user (usually the forehead, spectacles frame, nose) and movement of the head cause of the mouse cursor to move.
Some mainstream consumer tablets are starting to offer some forms of eye control and eye gesture. The functions offered at this stage are limited to scrolling, pausing, selecting a specific predetermined function and associating an eye gesture (e.g. wink) with a function (e.g. take photo). These operations a generally achieved using the inbuilt cameras. This is very different technology from the sophisticated eye gaze cameras offered as assistive technology. This mainstream area of technology is developing rapidly, however its ultimate adoption by the multinational corporations remains to be seen.
As discussed in the details above, some simpler cameras are entering the market that offer limited functions such a mouse control. These may be suitable for entry level eye-gaze such as cause/effect games, but may be too limited for essential eye gaze control required for AAC communication, education or work software or computer control.
Who Might Try Eye-Gaze?
- A child or adult who has difficulty using their hands functionally
- A child or adult who is unable to use the regular computer keyboard and/or mouse
- A child or adult who has been using switch/scanning
- A child or adult who has been using head-tracking
- A child or adult with a progressive condition
- A child or adult who has not had success with other access methods trialled
Several “developer” cameras have been made available recently. The concept of a ‘developer’ product is that it is made available to bona fide developers in an effort to stimulate creativity, experimentation, testing and developer/partnerships. The developer product is not intended to be a finished, commercial product at this point. Pricing may be at cost or below cost for a number of reasons. The camera manufacturer is trying to attract interest from software developers, to assist in progressing their product. Usually a "developer' will be required to sign a contract or accept terms to agree to "develop" the product. A 'developer' product is not intended as a commercial product. A commercial product is supplied fully developed and tested to be robust and reliable, with all appropriate certifications, supplied with warranties, instructions, compatible software, support and as an ongoing concern underpinned by an established company.
Cogain: is a network of excellence on Communicaiton by eye gaze.(Go to Cogain website)
Jacqui's blog (Go to Zyteq Blog)
Zyteq webinar: "Starting with Eye Gaze in the Classroom - Considerations" video embedded on main webpage here under "Overview" tab. Or link to Youtube
Inclusive's eye gaze software - Inclusive's Eye gaze learning Curve software (View on this website)
Software trial versions:
Look to Learn - download progran for ongoing access to 3 of the 26 activities (Go to download installer)
Download Inclusive titles (Go to Inclusive's Download page)
Manuals and Guides:
Eye Gaze in the Classroom: Your Essential Guide (PDF download 20 MB)
Look to Learn (PDF download)
Look to Learn Workbook (PDF download)
Attention & Looking Guidebook (PDF Download)
Choosing & Learning Guidebook (PDF Download)
Exploring & Playing Guidebook (PDF Download)
Beukelman, D. R.; Mirenda, P. (2012). Augmentative & alternative communication: supporting children & adults with complex communication needs (4th ed.). Paul H. Brookes Publishing Company