Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Playing “Pong” with the blink of an eye: low cost technology could enable people with severe physical disabilities to become ‘gamers’ for the first time

Imperial College London News Release

University students have developed a computer game that is operated by eye movements, which could allow people with severe physical disabilities to become ‘gamers’ for the first time, they announce today.

The students, from Imperial College London, have adapted an open source game called ‘Pong’, where a player moves a bat to hit a ball as it bounces around the screen. The adaptation enables the player to move the bat using their eye.

To play the game, the user wears special glasses containing an infrared light and a webcam that records the movement of one eye. The webcam is linked to a laptop where a computer program syncs the player’s eye movements to the game.

The prototype game is very simple but the students believe that the technology behind it could be adapted to create more sophisticated games and applications such as wheelchairs and computer cursors controlled by eye movements.

One of the major benefits of the new technology is that it is inexpensive, using off-the-shelf hardware and costing approximately £25 to make. Eye movement systems that scientists currently use to study the brain and eye motion cost around £27,000, say the researchers.

Dr Aldo Faisal, the team’s supervisor from the Department of Computing and the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London, says:

“Remarkably, our undergraduates have created this piece of neurotechnology using bits of kit that you can buy in a shop, such as webcams. The game that they’ve developed is quite simple, but we think it has enormous potential, particularly because it doesn’t need lots of expensive equipment. We hope to eventually make the technology available online so anyone can have a go at creating new applications and games with it and we’re optimistic about where this might lead. We hope it could ultimately provide entertainment options for people who have very little movement. In the future, people might be able to blink to turn pages in an electronic book, or switch on their favourite song, with the roll of an eye.”

Mr Ian Beer, who is a third year undergraduate from the Department of Computing, adds: “This game is just an early prototype, but we’re really excited that from our student project we’ve managed to come up with something that could ultimately help people who have really limited movement. It would be fantastic to see lots of people across the world creating new games and applications using our software.”

Researchers in Dr Faisal’s lab are now refining the technology so that it can monitor movements in both eyes. This would enable a user to carry out more complicated tasks such as plotting a journey on screen. This might ultimately allow them to use eye movements to steer a motorised wheelchair.

For further information please contact:

Colin Smith
Press Officer
Imperial College London
Email: cd.smith@imperial.ac.uk
Tel: +44 (0)207 594 6712
Out of hours duty press officer: +44 (0)7803 886 248

Notes to Editor

1. Student team includes: William Abbot, Department of Bioengineering; Oliver Rogers, Department of Maths and Department of Computing; Tim Treglown, Department of Maths and Department of Computing; Aaron Berk, Department of Computing; Ian Beer, Department of Computing.

2. About Imperial College London

Consistently rated amongst the world's best universities, Imperial College London is a science-based institution with a reputation for excellence in teaching and research that attracts 14,000 students and 6,000 staff of the highest international quality.

Innovative research at the College explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and business, delivering practical solutions that improve quality of life and the environment - underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture.

Since its foundation in 1907, Imperial's contributions to society have included the discovery of penicillin, the development of holography and the foundations of fibre optics. This commitment to the application of research for the benefit of all continues today, with current focuses including interdisciplinary collaborations to improve health in the UK and globally, tackle climate change and develop clean and sustainable sources of energy.

Website: www.imperial.ac.uk

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