The Miracle of Communication

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Ismail WorkingThe greatest fear for people living with ALS is that there will come a day when they become “locked in” – so completely paralyzed in the late stages of the disease that even the simplest of muscle movements have been stolen from them.  Hopelessly trapped inside their bodies, they would be unable to communicate in any way with the outside world and would survive in complete isolation.  Determined to never let that happen to Ismail, he and Cheryl are constantly on the look-out for new methods of communication to ensure that Ismail will always have communication options.

Eye Gaze

Ismail has tried using a couple of different eye gaze systems.  These devices contain a speech generating system, computer, and sometimes an environmental control unit.  With these systems, the user selects letters and numbers by gazing at them for a selected period of time (usually a fraction of a second) to spell words and then trigger the machine to read the typed words out loud.  The user can also select icons or images on various screens that trigger the voice synthesizer to speak words and phrases that the user has programmed into the system.

Both of the devices Ismail has tried are excellent, powerful systems that have worked for others.  Unfortunately, they have not worked well for him.

One of the major challenges with these devices is setting up the equipment and positioning it precisely each time it’s used. The device must be perfectly positioned and calibrated to track eye movement.  Each time the user moves to a different position, the device has to be moved and readjusted, too.  It can sometimes be challenging to position the device exactly right so that it will work properly every time.

Wearable Communication Devices

Cheryl wrote a review for Amazon.com for a book called Age of Context: Mobile, Sensors, Data and the Future of Privacy, by Robert Scoble and Shel Isreal.  In it, she wrote that what is most exciting to her about Google Glass (digital eyewear that is worn like a pair of glasses and responds to voice commands) is its potential to be an electronic personal assistant and communication system for people with physical disabilities and communication challenges.

Ever since learning about Google Glass, Cheryl has dreamed that someone would take the technology a step further and develop eye gaze technology that could be incorporated into a Google Glass-type of wearable device.

EyeSpeak: Cutting Edge Eye Gaze Technology

EyeSpeak, new and exciting eye tracking augmented reality glasses, are being developed by LusoVU, a company in Lisbon Portugal.  Ivo Vieira, the company’s CEO, has a PhD in physics engineering and has been working in the space sector for 16 years.  Since 2002, he has been CEO of LusoSpace, a company that develops space technology.

In February, 2013, Vieira’s father was diagnosed with ALS and is no longer able to speak.  Vieira wants to help his father and thousands of other people speak again.  He and his team are using technology that is used for astronauts to develop augmented reality glasses that are specially designed for people with ALS, muscular dystrophy, and spinal cord injury, as well as those who have other disabilities affecting their communication abilities, such as locked in syndrome.

EyeSpeak glasses will project a virtual keyboard onto the user’s field of view while a micro camera, built into the glasses, will track which keys the user is selecting with his or her eyes.  The user’s eyes will then be able to select the “speak” button, and a synthesized voice will speak what has been written through a speaker integrated into the glasses.  A computer can be connected to the device, too, allowing the user to control the mouse with his or her eyes.  Since the glasses are worn on the face, they can be used in any position and will rarely require repositioning or re-calibrating.

LusoVU is requesting pledges through Kickstarter to help the company complete development of this technology and get the product to market.  The company’s Kickstarter goal is to raise $115,000 in 30 days.  As of June 28, $50,580 has been pledged of the company’s $115,000 goal with 17 days left to raise the remaining funds.  If it does not reach its goal, LusoVU will not receive any of the pledged funds.

Ismail and Cheryl have pledged funds to back this project and become Early Adopters of EyeSpeak.  If the company reaches its goal, EyeSpeak glasses will be shipped to Ismail in March, 2015.

To learn more about Ivo Vieira and Eyespeak, click here.