For people who cannot speak, nor move their arms, hands or even heads, computer-connected eye-tracking systems allow for communications via eye movements. Such systems have some drawbacks, however, which a new prototype headset is claimed to address.

According to Christopher McMurrough, who is a computer science and engineering lecturer from the University of Texas at Arlington, the calibration of regular eye-tracking systems requires assistance from trained experts. Additionally, there is often a lag in the processing of tracked eye movements, not allowing for instantaneous communications.

The 3D "point of gaze" headset that he invented reportedly has neither of these problems.

First developed as a thesis project when McMurrough was a student, the prototype features a forward-facing 3D depth-mapping camera on the top, along with dual eye-tracking devices pointing in at the wearer's eyes.

A program on a linked computer creates a 3D map of the environment in front of the user, based on the camera's output. By combining this data with the output of the eye-trackers, the direction of the user's gaze can be deduced, allowing the program to determine what they're looking at within the 3D map.

As a result, the system should conceivably be capable of performing tasks such as activating the controls of an electric wheelchair, or instructing a robotic arm to grab an object such as a bottle of water – all the user would have to do is look at those things.

"My interest in this technology grew out of seeing how my mother-in-law struggled with eye-tracking devices as an ALS patient," says McMurrough. "The latest version of our device can be worn as a pair of ski goggles with cameras on top and eye-trackers embedded in the lenses, making it very easy for patients to use it over long periods of time as it moves with them."

The technology, which has been patented, could also have applications in fields such as gaming, augmented reality, and the monitoring of medical conditions that affect eye movements.

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