Eye-controlled wheelchair developed at Bradford University could transform lives

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Dr Prashant Pillai takes a closer look at the device that allows the wheelchair to be moved by eye movement. Dr Prashant Pillai takes a closer look at the device that allows the wheelchair to be moved by eye movement.

An invention developed at Bradford University could soon transform the lives of severely disabled people.

The eye-controlled wheelchair allows the user to move by merely looking in the direction they want to go, and could find its way to the market in the next few years.

It was first developed by Dr Prashant Pillai, a senior lecturer in Electronics and Telecommunication several years ago, but the prototype required the user to wear a headpiece, which used infa-red technology to follow the user's eye and direct the motorised wheelchair accordingly.

But the technology has since been completely re-worked by Dr Pillai and PhD student Suraj Verma and a heavy head piece is no longer needed - instead a wheelchair mounted box maps the user's face and controls the chair.

The team is now hoping to trial it with wheelchair users before looking for investment that would allow the production of the technology for sale.

Dr Pillai said the technology could be easily adapted, and could be used to control other things, such as TV, radio, lighting and heating.

The pair showed off the technology at an event in London's Natural History Museum last week as part of a University Week event, wowing visitors and industry experts with both the wheelchair and an eye controlled computer game.

He told the Telegraph & Argus that they thought the new design was more suitable for disabled users than the glasses based design, and any finished piece could easily be adapted for any powered wheelchair.

He said: "We had to go back to the drawing board to redesign it, and it was quite difficult because the sensors are now much further away from the user's face. We had to re-write the whole software."

Although there were some commercial eye tracking systems, this is the first time the technology has been adapted in such a way, and the team are in the process of patenting it.

He added: "At the moment the technology is still being perfected. We want to create something that can plug into any wheelchair. We need to try it with disabled groups and get feedback from them, that is our next main step. Once we have that we can see what improvements are required and then we can get working on taking it to market.

"Hopefully we can make the technology so you can switch off lights and make phone calls with the unit. It will really help disabled people who are dependent on someone else, it will give them a bit more control of their life."

The technology will be on display at the University's open days on Friday and Saturday. For more information visit bradford.ac.uk/opendays

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