How technology can give people a voice through their gaze

February 10. 2020

The number of ways eye-tracking technology can be used in the healthcare sector is indeed endless

Over the next few years, eye-tracking technology will play a fundamental –and absolutely necessary– role in the way humans connect to the world. Indeed, in many ways, it is already a reality. We are now interacting with computers, tablets, smartphones and smart TVs through our voice, gestures, and –in some cases– gaze. Several international studies expect the alternative communication market to be worth 442 million euros by 2025. And if we look at eye-tracking technology overall, 27.4% annual growth is expected in the global eye tracking market.

The health sector, the study of diseases, rehabilitation, and helping improve the quality of life in patients with motor disabilities are some of the main disciplines in which eye-tracking technology is already being used. Indeed, this is the reason Irisbond was born. We identified a very natural application such as giving people a voice, helping disabled people to interact with a computer screen and open a window to the world.

This year experienced a major step forward in improving the quality of life for many people in our country. The State Journal published on 27th April 2019 set out improvements in the range of services available in the public health system, which will cover the cost of all eye readers from January 2020 onwards. The Regional Health Boards have since been working against the clock to train health professionals and allow doctors to prescribe technological support for all patients with serious neuromotor disorders, severe affectation of both upper limbs, and the impossibility of oral or written communication. This mostly affects patients with ALS, basilar artery thrombosis, infantile cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury and pontine myelinolysis. With this new communication technique now being covered by the public health system, Spain joins the list of European countries where these alternative and augmentative communication solutions are financed entirely by the State.

Since they allow patients to control any device with their eyes, eye trackers are a tremendously important tool in this field and one of the devices with the most promising future. Combined with accessible programmes for communication, patients can express themselves autonomously with the environment since it allows them to, among other functionalities, speak through virtual keyboards and synthesised voice, browse the Internet, use social media, or even learn to read and write. The person’s quality of life and self-esteem will undoubtedly see significant improvements.

Eye trackers are essential to the freedom, autonomy and inclusiveness of users

Alternative and augmentative communication systems such as eye trackers are essential to the freedom, autonomy and inclusiveness of users, allowing them to lead a fuller social life despite the limitations of their condition, while enabling disabled children to attend mainstream schools. Here, ongoing service and training for the medical professionals who prescribe the technology take on special relevance, since needs and communication skills differ between, for example, an ALS sufferer and someone with cerebral palsy.

Similarly, within the hospital environment, the usefulness of eye-tracking technology extends to patients with other conditions such as quadriplegia, or even patients waking up in intensive care without the ability to communicate with doctors.

Working closely with neurology services and ALS units around Spain

It is important to work closely with neurology services and ALS units around Spain, as well as with ALS Associations and leading national bodies, in order to ensure everybody has a right to communication from the very first moment. This is achieved not only by providing equipment, but also through ongoing medical care to ensure patients receive the best alternative communication system possible. The ultimate goal must be to focus on people and on improving patient care, allowing doctors to work efficiently, and on adapting their needs in accordance with the latest technology.

The number of ways eye-tracking technology can be used in the healthcare sector is indeed endless. Eye-tracking technology could also be applied, for example, to access different functionalities while driving a vehicle; to detect customers’ eye movements in a store in order to understand what catches their attention, or to choose which series we want to watch on our Smart TV without the remote control. This is the challenge we face: to go even further, inventing different, innovative, global products that make our relationship with our surroundings easier. When we talk about technology –something which has a social impact on many levels– we do it with purpose.