ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig's disease, is a neurological nightmare for those who have it, as the disease involves the death of neurons and, in turn, an ever-increasing loss of brain functions. But a new funding campaign on Indiegogo provide a new means of communication for those with ALS using wearable tech for its base.
The technology in question, known as EyeControl relies on the fact that in most cases, the neurons connected to eye control are typically among the last to die. With this point in mind, EyeControl could offer an unusual proposition: a head-mounted infrared camera that can track eye movements. The eye movements are tracked and translated into either text or spoken words thanks to its USB connection to a microcomputer known as Odroid. The Odroid system can connect to headphones, to a speaker setup, or can even use a Bluetooth connection to route to a smartphone. A unique algorithm built into the system allows the device to be calibrated to individual users, providing the best overall results.
With the EyeControl setup, users can compose full sentences, but can also engage in shorter, more pre-defined communications for those circumstances that call for such. Where, for instance, we might cry “ouch!” if hurt, the EyeControl system can activate simple sentences rapidly like “I'm hot,” or “My hand hurts” on the strength of a quick gesture. Where we might cry out for help, the EyeControl system can activate “alert sounds” to call for assistance quickly. The system has around 10 to 15 “standard sayings” based on the needs of ALS patients.
The Indiegogo campaign, meanwhile, seeks $30,000 to augment the EyeControl system's design and operations. Should it be successful, it poses a great opportunity for ALS patients, as only around 30 percent of potential users can afford the current crop of devices designed to give ALS patients communications capability. The current technology runs around $5,000 a unit, and that leaves 70 percent of patients unable to communicate with the outside world by any means. With EyeControl, meanwhile, the price is expected to drop 95 percent and improve functionality, opening up the field to users and giving ALS patients more say in life.
It's hard not to see the value in something like this; after all, the idea of allowing ALS patients who were formerly unable to speak to the outside world to do just that is a development on par with bringing sight to the blind or hearing to the deaf. Better yet, it improves on many of the standard systems, using a wearable base to allow the system to go mobile, and let the ALS patient communicate even while away from home.
If EyeControl works as the early word suggests, this is going to be a huge development. It's hard to imagine being unable to communicate with the world, but it's harder still to imagine the joy in being able to get that communication back. If it works this way for even one person, it will still be worth no end of Indiegogo pledges.
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