Technology that allows gamers to control game functions with only their eyes is helping to open virtual worlds such as Second Life and World of Warcraft to people with severe motor disabilities.
The gaming-with-gaze software – a first version of which has been made publicly available for free – is one of several applications to emerge from COGAIN, an EU-funded network of excellence aimed at coordinating efforts from developers of new communications tools for people with disabilities using gaze and eye-tracking technology.
For people suffering from conditions such as cerebral palsy, motor neurone disease or so-called locked-in syndromes, being able to move around and interact in a virtual environment is a “truly liberating experience,” says Howell Istance, a computer scientist who helped develop the software.
The gaming-with-gaze software works in combination with commercially available eye trackers that use cameras to monitor users’ eye movements as they gaze at a computer screen. The developers studied the eye movements of able-bodied gamers to create a visual heat map in order to trigger commands depending on where users look. Different patterns of eye movements are translated into so-called gaze gestures that are used to trigger movement or action commands.
Glancing to the left or right will turn the virtual character in that direction, for example, while staring at the centre of the screen will make the avatar run forwards. Because the software is independent of the game itself, it can be used to play virtually any game that requires mouse and keyboard inputs.
Communicating with other players is made possible by gazing at letters on an onscreen visual keyboard, while different combinations of gestures can be used to perform different actions.
The gaming-with-gaze software should make the avatars of people with disabilities almost indistinguishable in their behavior and abilities from those of able-bodied people in online games and environments. The researchers plan to encourage people with disabilities who are already using eye-tracking systems to install the software and use it with whatever online games they would like to play.
Source: ICT Results
View a video of the new software here.