The need for budget eye-tracking systems
The Need for Affordable medical Eye Tracker
For many years, the situation on the market of technologically sophisticated eye-tracking devices is not in favor of the final user. The cost of a nurse or a specialized assistant, which will help the paralyzed patient to communicate with the outside world, is high enough, but keeping him in a specialized clinic or purchase an eye-tracking system for home use will be many times more expensive. Everyone cannot afford this, and combined with a costly course of treatment and rehabilitation, it becomes even less affordable. As a result, patients are forced to suffer without communication, which introduces additional negative aspects to the disease due to frequent stress and forced isolation.
The situation is complicated by the fact that in most of the devices there is no possibility to change the language used in text managing and typing, which creates a number of additional problems and for many makes the imported eye trackers impossible to use. In addition, problems may arise with the delivery and warranty repairs in case of any, even minor defects, as almost all of the major service centers are located exclusively in European cities and states. When importing devices from abroad, because of differences in state standards, eye trackers of leading Western manufacturers can be incompatible with intelligent control systems of home equipment.
In addition, given the cost of most eye-tracking systems, it is simply economically irrational for manufacturers to organize service centers and sales points far from the major financial centers because the individual orders there will not be able to recoup even a portion of the funds spent on the construction and advertising. All this leads to the situation wherein regions with no advanced medical centers, insurance companies are not able to pay for the long (and often lifelong) treatment of the patients in case of paralysis, and the income level in these places does not allow people to buy expensive equipment, so the costly eye-tracking systems are simply not delivered there.
But this is not even the main problem. Most patients do not need a rich feature set; they do not need their eye trackers to manage home appliances and computer programs. They do not need additional modules for human speech synthesis, a large arsenal of options, and complex schemes of device calibration. They need only one - the ability to communicate.
After all, when you think of how modern computing power grows, and even a budget laptop is able to quickly and easily handle large amounts of information, including digitizing and analysis of data from an external camera. In this case you just need a video recording device and a program that shows the patient the matrix of letters on a monitor, as when working with an assistant. There is no need for costly multifunctional eye trackers. The device will be compact and mobile, able to work for some time on internal battery, and will be 10 times cheaper and more practical than its Western analogues.
It is hoped that a hitherto vacant niche of budget firmware sets of eye-tracking systems in most countries will soon be completed, and the paralyzed and remaining motionless patients will be able to communicate with other people. After all, who else but they know the true value of each word?
Budget eye-tracking systems
Perhaps the only way out of this situation is the development of inexpensive eye-tracking systems. Many cannot afford expensive equipment, and the services of a qualified assistant are also far from cheap. Moreover, the human factor should be taken into account: When working with the board of characters, the assistant, in most cases, gets tired faster than the patient.
Inexpensive but sufficiently effective eye-tracking systems can be created with a Notebook and a webcam. By analyzing the cost of the above factors, it is possible to assess the strengths and weaknesses of such a system:
- The use of precision gear. The accuracy of a webcam is several times lower (compared to some of the professional devices 10 times) than the devices used in eye tracking; the frequency of shooting is also much lower. But to function with large characters, the accuracy is not an essential factor. The system based on a Notebook is designed to be used exclusively with the letter matrix and does not support the mouse pointer. For this reason small variations in positioning are tolerated.
- Software development. Basic eye trackers do not require the development of a software set, as they will not support the mouse pointer or any external applications. Modules for speech synthesis will not apply either. Using a simple program will ensure simplicity and ease of interface with high reliability.
- Essential functionalities. The sum of the capacities of Notebook combined with other additional software. Of course, the capabilities of a Notebook will not be available to patients with limited motor functions who can only use the letter matrix. But this will already allow them to communicate, by typing the text character by character such a simplified system created precisely for this objective.
- Brand, hardware support, and warranty costs. The simpler the software or hardware is, the higher its reliability and durability. Moreover, in the case of any serious damage to the equipment, like a laptop or webcam, it can always be effortlessly replaced. While repairing a professional eye-tracking device, its sensitive camera, the radiator, or the video-processing block can result in significant difficulties and should be fixed only by a professional service company.
But, of course, the decisive factor in the improvement of this kit is its extremely low cost. Importantly, the system is a light, mobile, and doesn't require much to work.
Eye-tracking budget systems are unlikely to ever compete with the high-tech and multi-function products. But this is not their objective; they will have a consumer niche. Their main and only use would be to offer totally paralyzed individuals with a safe and inexpensive method for communication. And they completely succeed in this job.