Eye-Trackers – price VS functionality
Price VS Functionality of Eye Tracking
It is an undeniable fact: A full and healthy life is extremely important for everyone. But, unfortunately, no one is immune to diseases and conditions that can severely limit mobility. This can be caused by different joint injuries, post-stroke states, paralysis, and mental illnesses. The majority of people are exposed to such risks due to heredity, aging, habits, stress, poor diet, sleep and waking schedule, and many other reasons. Even for perfectly healthy people, there is a considerable risk of accidents or other emergencies that can cause an irreparable damage to health.
A temporary or permanent loss of motor function is always a heavy loss and prolonged stress for both the patient and his family or friends. In some cases, the patients have to be confined to a bed or a wheelchair for life; in others, they may require a long course of physical and social rehabilitation. The relationship with the medical and nursing staff, as well as the application of innovative technologies, play a crucial role in the rehabilitation of lost capabilities.
In order to accelerate and improve the conditions of rehabilitation of patients with limited mobility, medical research and opinion polls are regularly conducted. For example, a large-scale study of “locked-in" syndrome published last year by Dr. Steven Loris (Belgium, the University Hospital of Liege, coma study group) found that more than 72% of patients are happy despite the complete loss of mobility and speech, and only 28% unhappy. Many years of experience show that patients with the syndrome of isolation are capable of rehabilitation with the right assistance: After a while, some motor functions can be restored and patients can regain control of fingers or whole limbs, move the head, and recover some ability to speak coherently.
However, the time of recovery for people with limited or no mobility can be months or years. All the while, they have to communicate with the medical staff and loved ones with hand signs, or eye movements for those who have lost the motor function entirely. It is extremely difficult for both the patient and the hospital staff to communicate like this and requires the constant presence of an assistant.
Communication with these patients is extremely slow and uses a special board of characters. The assistant points to letters of the alphabet on the board, and the patient indicates the desired letter by blinking or by a special movement. Letter by letter, words and sentences are formed; 20 seconds to several minutes are necessary to find each letter. This is a very slow and painstaking process that requires great patience and constant attention from the patient and the medical assistant.
The eye-tracking systems are used to facilitate the work of the medical staff in the rehabilitation of paralyzed patients. With these systems, most of the time the patients can, character by character, type sentences and short texts themselves without any help from the personal assistant. The board of alphabet letters is displayed on the screen of the device or on the external monitor connected to it. The infrared transmitter and the sensitive camera determine the direction of the gaze and calculate with accuracy the area to which the user is looking. By keeping his gaze on a particular character, the patient chooses it and so gradually forms the words.
Of course, modern eye-tracking systems are not limited to text typing. If the patient is at home, it can be adjusted to control the appliances, the lighting, and work with a personal computer (running applications and management; positioning the mouse; selecting, copying, and saving the text; working on the Internet.) The abilities of eye trackers are not confined to character typing — the system also allows the patient to speak with a synthesized voice and make phone calls.
But these multifunctional devices have one major drawback — the high cost. It comes from the combination of several factors:
- The use of precision gear. The cameras in the system must have a high-resolution and high-shutter rate for fast and precise positioning.
- Software development. Despite the seeming simplicity, eye trackers’ interfaces are always carefully thought out and planned. All elements must be placed conveniently and be simple and intuitive to ease navigation for the user. Processing the incoming real-time images from the camera is also a technically complex process.
- Essential functionalities. Often these systems are equipped with speech synthesizers, modules to connect to a PC, the possibility to use the Internet directly from the device, and so on. Of course, this greatly increases the cost of the set.
- Brand, hardware support, and warranty costs. The market for medical and commercial eye trackers is divided between large companies. When purchasing a product, consumers are forced to pay not only for the eye-tracking equipment, but also for the additional components, software, and the brand. Also worth noting is that many companies provide a warranty on the system only for a year or two. Further extension of the warranty will cost the user a considerable amount.
Does all this prove that most modern eye-tracking devices used for medical purposes are virtually inaccessible to the average buyer? Alas, yes. The average cost of a professional kit, used in the rehabilitation of immobilized patients, can vary from 5 to $17,000, not including extended warranty or a basic set of software. Additional equipment will cost $500-2000.
At the same time, eye trackers remain the sole common thread that allows the patient to communicate with others, express his emotions, and report physical health. The vast majority of patients at the polls select communication as the most important factor of their life. It is the only thing that gives them the hope and desire to continue to live and fight disease.