Forget about using a keyboard to type in your question on Google or Bing. Ditto for voice control on your smart phone.
Soon you'll be able to control your computer or mobile device just by moving your eyes.
A British research team did just that with a new system that costs less than $100 – all with parts they could simply pull off a shelf.
In a moment, I'll give you all the details. But first, let's put this breakthrough in context.
You see, for most of us surfing the Web, writing emails or sending texts is so routine we don't even give it a second thought.
In fact, it sometimes seems that mobile phones, in particular, have become part of our bodies. (Just try telling my teenagers to stop texting at the dinner table.)
And yet, millions around the world simply cannot join the digital age for a simple reason.
Their bodies won't let them, either because of disease or severe injuries.
That covers a wide range of problems from adults with lost limbs or broken spinal cords to kids who have muscular dystrophy, an illness that causes the muscles to wither away.
But all that is about to change…
The Promise of Eye-Control Tech
Fact is, cutting-edge eye-control tech promises to have a profound impact on the way humans use a wide range of machines. We're taking about everything from controlling robots and wheelchairs to setting the timer on your coffee maker.
It's thanks to the research team at Imperial College London that this tech is finally within reach.
Today's standard eye-tracking systems (like those used by the U.S. military) cost "tens of thousands of times" more money than the system they built, the research team noted.
With this milestone behind us, I predict this new system – or something like it – will bring eye-control tech to the masses.
Team leader Aldo Faisal agrees. He says just about anyone can learn to control devices with their eyes. In his project, people became adept at using the system in just a few minutes.
Faisal's team got their results, published July 12 in the Journal of Neural Engineering, by having test subjects play Pong, that early table-tennis video game that debuted way back in 1972. They not only played the game without a head set, test subjects also learned to surf the Web and write emails using only their eyes.
Dubbed the GT3D, the system includes two fast video-game console cameras attached to a pair of cheap glasses and "smart" software that processes the input quickly.
The cameras took constant pictures of the eyes and tracked just where the pupils were pointing. That allowed the research team to figure out the precise spot where a person was looking.
Turns out the system works in 3D. The research team devised ways to figure out how far in the distance the test subjects looked. This last detail could prove crucial; the spatial control would allow people to work an electric wheelchair just by looking where they want to go.
Really, the possibilities are endless…
Just by using a simple eye movement, like a wink, paralyzed patients – or any one for that matter – could turn the pages of a book in their e-reader or "tell" a robot to clear the dishes off the dinner table.
No doubt, this milestone clearly fits into the Era of Radical Change. Not long ago, eye-control was the stuff of sci-fi or advanced U.S. defense platforms.
But in the near future it will become a reality for millions around the globe. It's also one of the reasons I say the world of high tech moves faster these days than what most folks can get their minds around.
Consider this related piece of news that came out on the very same day…
A team in the Netherlands said a new system will allow paralyzed people to control computers with just their minds.
This brain-computer link from UMC Utrecht relies on an advanced MRI scanner. Test subjects looked at a computer screen that allowed them to see just what a camera on a toy robot was looking at. In turn, the MRI scanner measured the brain activity of the test subject. Then, the computer "learned" when the four test subjects were thinking left, right, or forwards.
Each of the volunteers got the robot to complete a course of about 30 feet with four stops along the way. All the while, the "drivers" were lying inside the MRI machine – just thinking about what they wanted the robot to do.
"All four study subjects were able to control the robot very quickly," said brain researcher Nick Ramsey, who led the team. "They all felt in control of the robot. This means that this type of brain-computer interface is very easy to master. Training is barely needed."
Ramsey said this is a crucial step in proving the long-term potential for this type of approach. Later, patients will have electrodes implanted in their brains to track their thoughts and control robots.
It's hard to predict how long it will take either of these systems to come to market. If I had to guess, I'd say the eye-tracker will come out sooner because it's cheaper and easier to use – at least for now.
But either system would be a godsend to millions of paralyzed people around the world. It will give them a brand new lease on life, a way to take control of their surroundings that today they can only dream about.
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About the Author
Michael A. Robinson is a 36-year Silicon Valley veteran and one of the top technology financial analysts working today. That's because, as a consultant, senior adviser, and board member for Silicon Valley venture capital firms, Michael enjoys privileged access to pioneering CEOs, scientists, and high-profile players. And he brings this entire world of Silicon Valley "insiders" right to you...
- He was one of five people involved in early meetings for the $160 billion "cloud" computing phenomenon.
- He was there as Lee Iacocca and Roger Smith, the CEOs of Chrysler and GM, led the robotics revolution that saved the U.S. automotive industry.
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