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New technology allows disabled children to explore their creative side

Posted on 19/07/2011
eye tracker experiment

Doodling, colouring in and drawing are all important parts of a child’s development. But what if the child has a disability and does not have the use or control of their limbs?

A team of researchers at Royal Holloway, University of London are working with charity SpecialEffect to use innovative technology to design a computer programme to allow those with disabilities to be able to explore their creativity.

The novel technology developed at Royal Holloway uses an eye-tracker to find out exactly how eye movements correspond with the participants preferences. Having identified a tell-tale pattern of eye-movements which allowed them to predict the participant’s preferences, the researchers developed an evolutionary algorithm to manipulate designs right before the subjects’ eyes, so that they gradually evolved to match each person’s preferences. The subjects were not told to look for their favourite design, but allowed the computer to ‘read their minds’ through their eye movements.

Dr Tim Holmes, from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway, developed the technology. He says: “The ability to draw or build is something many of us take for granted, and it’s an important facilitator of cognitive development.  However, even with the computer software to manipulate virtual equivalents of building bricks and crayons, many of these programs remain inaccessible to the physically and mentally disabled.  Recent developments in assistive technologies have used eye-movements as an alternative to standard computer interfaces such as the mouse, keyboard and joystick.  But our technology goes one step further, by recognising the meaning, or intent, associated with those eye-movements, enabling the software to work with the user, presenting design variants which are increasingly optimal over successive presentations. This technology will allow them to do something they currently can’t do.”

Starting from Tuesday July 19, and running throughout the summer, the researchers will be inviting visitors to the Science Museum as part of the Live Science programme to try out the technology.

Dr Holmes explains: “The experiment at the Science Museum will enable us to validate this technology using a large and diverse population of users, and also to gather feedback on the user experience.  Working with Special Effect, we then hope to expand the “dinosaur drawing” program into a more general creative tool that will allow disabled users to explore their own imagination through virtual toys such as building bricks, moulding clay and line drawing applications.”

The Live Science Experiment - Insight from your sight: What do your eye-movements say about what you like?

What judgements do you make when you look at things? You’ll be asked to look at a series of evolving cartoon dinosaurs. Researchers will track your gaze to gain clues on how you make choices. Come and help researchers from the Department of Psychology at the Royal Holloway, University of London.

Who Am I? Gallery, Science Museum

12.00-18.00 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays & Thursdays

Some Saturdays and Sundays until 30 September.

The free event is open to anyone aged 5 or over. The experiments will take about 15 minute


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