Several studies have come up with solutions to help people who cannot use their hands to interact with a computer. The most futuristic ones are trying to use brain waves, or as someone says your thoughts, to control the computer but these technologies are still in the labs and it will take several more years before they can become seamless.
Looking at the eye of one person is a good strategy but so far the solutions proposed entail complicated and costly hardware. But now researchers at the Imperial College in London have worked out a solution that is dirty cheap and that works pretty well.
They use two fast video cameras mounted on a pair of glasses. Each camera cost some 30$ and overall the device cost under 100$. They are kept out of the way of sight so that the person wearing them perceives no visual obstruction.
The cameras are connected to a computer that continuously analyses the images and detect the point the eyes are looking at. The software can pinpoint the area being focussed and it is accurate enough to detect the distance so that this system works not only as a command device to substitute a mouse but also as a controller to determine directions. It may be used, as an example, to steer a wheel chair.
It can also be used by persons with normal ability to control, hands free, a robot from a distance.
The researchers tried it out on several people by having them playing Pong, the well known game where you need to move a bat to intercept a ball bouncing on the screen. The results show that it is very easy for people to use the device, most of them were able to make similar score at the game a person with normal ability would make, and this after just ten minutes of using it.
The low cost coupled with the ease of use makes this a winning proposition. Through a bit of engineering, that shouldn’t be a problem, it should be possible to make a pleasing device also from an aesthetic point of view.
In the future I do expect we will be able to interact just in the way we have been interacting with the environment for the last few million years, using our sight, voice, gesture, and in a completely seamless way. That is the type of interface I would really like to see, or, rather, not see….