Researchers developing new technology to help children with disabilities draw
Europe, August 10 2011
A team of researchers at Royal Holloway, University of London are working with charity Special Effect to use innovative technology to design a computer programme to allow children 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 physically and mentally disabled people. 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 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 people to explore their own imagination through virtual toys such as building bricks, moulding clay and line drawing applications.”