Improved EyeWriter Eye-Tracking System Can Help Patients Draw, Create

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by Mary Chapman |

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Eyewriter eye-tracking device

With a new version of a low-cost eye-tracking system called EyeWriter, artists and others who are paralyzed due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) can more accurately draw and create images using only their eyes.

The latest EyeWriter 2.0 software improves the system’s accuracy and now also allows the device’s use by those who have head movement. It is open-source — meaning its original source code has been made freely available and may be redistributed and modified.

Notably, while traditional commercial eye trackers run between roughly $9,000 and $20,000, EyeWriter currently costs about $200 in parts. Instructions on how to build a version of EyeWriter 2.0 are available here.

According to its developers, EyeWriter 2.0 improves the device’s accuracy and allows its use by those who wear eyeglasses or who have head movement, such as patients with multiple sclerosis. The original device was designed for individuals who are motionless.

EyeWriter technology uses cameras and software to track eye movements from an incoming camera or video image, which then translate to a screen where patients can draw or write. The eye-drawing software that’s designed for use with the EyeWriter tracking software also can be used with current commercial eye trackers.

The new design utilizes a camera and light-emitting diode (LED) system that can be used by those whose heads tend to move, including people with MS, which can cause tremors. The device, which allows pupil isolation and tracking in real time, also can be integrated with a robotic arm that can draw the artwork people make with their eyes.

Inexpensive cameras and open-source computer vision software are used to track the wearer’s eye movements. Computer vision is an interdisciplinary scientific field that deals with how computers can gain high-level understanding from digital images or videos.

The system’s core development team consists of artists and engineers from Free Art and Technology (FAT), an organization that aims to spark enrichment through technology and media, OpenFrameworks, an open-source toolkit, and the Graffiti Research Lab, which outfits urban artists with open source technology. The Graffiti Research Lab features artists Tempt1, Evan Roth, Chris Sugrue, Zach Lieberman, Theo Watson, and James Powderly.

The EyeWriter was originally developed about a decade ago for Tony Quan — tag name Tempt One or Tempt1 — a graffiti artist who rose to prominence in Los Angeles in the early 1980s. Diagnosed with ALS in 2003 and now fully paralyzed, Quan has been able to use the EyeWriter to continue his art.

The developers’ long-term aim is to establish a professional and social network of software developers, hardware hackers, urban projection artists, and ALS patients globally who use local materials and open-source research to connect and create eye art.

To contact the EyeWriter team, send an e-mail to [email protected].