Hi, please

Will the Eyewriter influence the field of Assistive Technology?

So, after my excitement over the Eyewriter and its possibilities as artistic technology toned down a bit (and Mushon’s useful input), I focused my research on a different angle: its great possibilities as a communication tool for people that have lost this ability, either by ALS or any other kind of paralysis.

It links two very different types of new media: art and assistive technology (AT)– technology used by individuals with disabilities in order to perform functions that might otherwise be difficult or impossible. i.e. a wheelchair, a hearing aid, a screen reader or an artificial lung. The Eyewriter has linked the subversive, colorful, cool world of graffiti with the often dry and no-nonsense field of medical technology. Not your usual combination.

In general, high-tech medical hardware belongs to the very expensive world of state of the art health care. As we know, this is not widely available and is linked to a costly process that includes highly specialized physicians, hospitalization and health insurance.

The Eyewriter is based on the eye tracking system, a piece of AT that already existed. One of the most prestigious manufacturers of eye tracking systems is Arrington Research, a company that used to be part of a technology transfer initiative at the MIT. One of their products is the Monocular Nystamus Laptop System, which looks somewhat like this:

Arrington Research's system

In essence, not extremely different from the Eyewriter: a camera mounted on a headset, connected to software that is installed on a computer (not included) that records and interprets the pupil movements.

EyeWriter diagram-- formed by cheap components

But there is a huge difference– the price.

Arlington Research's eye tracking, $7,998 Pricey? Yes.

The Monocular system goes at $7,998. The Eyewriter, on the other hand, can be (almost) homemade—you need someone who has knowledge in programming (easier to find and cheaper than a specialized physician), a webcam ($20), a pair of sunglasses ($5), developed camera film ($10), wire, tape & other basic hardware items ($15)—all can go for less than 50 bucks. The team that developed the software has made it open source and posted some great video tutorials on their site.

The Eyewriter definitely has gotten a lot of attention from the graffiti community, and it’s also making some good noise in the medical/A.T. world, as well as with ALS patients.

Zach Lieberman has shared some great news: that several eye-tracking companies and some great experts in assistive technology are already in contact with them [such as the ITU GazeGroup, a research group at the IT University of Copenhagen that focuses in finding accessible alternatives for gaze tracking systems and bring them to the m ainstream] as well as some ALS foundations and a lot of potential users and their families.


A very well known case of ALS is Stephen Hawking’s, although I think he hasn’t heard about the Eyewriter… yet :) But NewJack has, a  film editor/ video artist/ photographer/ painter/ musician who was recently diagnosed with it. He has continued doing all of his amazing work aided by AT: visual art, video, original composition, comics, and a long, impressive etcetera. He has contacted Eyewriter.org and is one of the many patients who are sharing their ideas for further developing the project.

I have now contacted both NewJack and the GazeGroup, and hope to get direct input soon . I’ll also be meeting Zach Lieberman in the following days. As you can see, the live reporting for this project isn’t so direct since stuff is happening mainly outside the web (and outside NYC) and being known about after it has happened. Still, I’m on it and will surely get some more answers… stay tuned.

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  1. Ryan 16:15, Mar 5th, 10

    Like I said before, this is something that I could see be implemented in the future for art therapy in physical rehabilitation centers, especially for quadriplegic patients. Also, I foresee equal potential for the people like NewJack and others who have made professions in visual art, video composition, and “a long impressive etc.” Do you think that they could develop a much cheaper version apart from a McGyver-homemade edition that might cost around $50? Have you contacted any rehabilitation centers that deal with spinal chord injuries or strokes and inquired about this for rehabilitation purposes. You can ask me for the art therapist’s number at Magee Rehab in Philadelphia. Her name is Lori, just mention my name and she’ll be glad to offer her input on something like this. (215) 587-3000 is the main number. Just ask to speak to Lori, the Art Therapist. Hope this helped.

  2. Jimena 20:27, Mar 5th, 10

    Hi Ryan, I definitely think that a cheaper version is possible simply by getting cheaper material. The one that they constructed in Mumbai came up to be even less expensive than building one in the US.
    Thanks a lot for your input– I had not contacted the rehab centers directly but the Therapist in Philly is a great lead. I will contact her immediately. Thanks again!

  3. nadine 21:11, Mar 5th, 10

    I like your new question! Is the McGyver-version useful or too deeply flawed? $7,998 versus $50- there must be a huge quality difference…
    I am looking forward to getting the feedback of the rehab center!

  4. Harris 06:31, Mar 7th, 10

    And I’m looking forward to a second video post by that Mumbai guy who was doing it for way cheaper than $50 :)

    For years I’ve been hearing about the use of gaze tracking to design enhanced reality systems for everyone, and not just the disabled. Still waiting for that!