New Device Turns Eye Movement Into Writing

I always dreamed about being able to write or draw with my eyes alone, and this new device invented by Dr. Jean Lorenceau at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie-Paris would allow me to do exactly that. Magic? Science!

The system is already working. Lorenceau and his patients are using it to handwrite and draw on screens without moving a single muscle except those of their eyes. According to Lorenceau, this opens the door to expressive, very personal communication by people with disabilities, as described in the abstract of his paper, published in the July 26 issue of Current Biology:

Here, I introduce a novel, temporally modulated visual display, which, although static, sustains smooth eye movements in arbitrary directions. After brief training, participants gain volitional control over smooth pursuit eye movements and can generate digits, letters, words, or drawings at will. For persons deprived of limb movement, this offers a fast, creative, and personal means of linguistic and emotional expression.

Before the invention of this system, this wasn’t possible at all — “the eyes never cease to move: ballistic saccades quickly turn the gaze toward peripheral targets,” says Lorenceau. So even while our eyes are high precision machines, we have little voluntary control over them. They respond instinctively to your surroundings.

By accident, Lorenceau found a way to control the eyes using an optical illusion called reverse phi motion. That gave him the idea to create a system that would track this voluntary movement to “draw” on the screen. He claims that anyone could write at 20 characters per minute after a 90 minute training session. [Current Biology via Medical Press]

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