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You might like the little Dasher gif found at
We had been following this story for some time, see
You'll find there also references to some other input systems
P.S. If I am tooting our own horn a little bit, it is because Fleabyte is trying very hard to create a connection between people and digital augmentation.
This article from NYTimes.com
has been sent to you by email@example.com.
Dasher--demonstrations and download.
A Gaze That Dictates, With Intuitive Software as the Scribe
September 12, 2002
By ANNE EISENBERG
PEOPLE who cannot use a keyboard or mouse - quadriplegics
or those with Lou Gehrig's disease, for instance - often
use their gaze instead.
Typically they select characters to type by staring at keys
pictured on an onscreen keyboard; in many systems, the
direction of their gaze is then captured by a computer
equipped with an eye-tracking system.
Now gamelike software developed by two British physicists
at the University of Cambridge promises to speed up this
laborious process, permitting rapid, accurate writing by
Dr. David J. C. MacKay, a professor at the university's
Cavendish Laboratory and leader of the research team, said
that the new software relieves eyes of peering fixedly at
successive areas on the screen when writing.
"Eyes did not evolve to push onscreen buttons," he said.
"That's exhausting." Instead, the software, called Dasher,
uses a different capability of the eye - its natural knack
for navigating, for instance, when walking down the street,
driving a car, or, in the case of Dasher, playing what
often looks and feels like an onscreen game.
Although its purpose is serious, the software, which the
researchers described last month in the journal Nature, is
reminiscent of many enjoyable computer games. At the start,
Dasher displays the letters of the alphabet in a column on
the right side of a colorful screen. As the user's eyes run
down the column and locate the first desired letter, say
the "h" to begin "hello," the view on the computer screen
zooms in so that the area around the "h" grows larger and
the letter stands out, appearing to float on the screen.
Then the software predicts the most likely successor to
join that "h," releasing "a, e, i, o, u" as possible
candidates for selection. People use their gaze to choose
the letters they want - or reject those they don't - helped
by the software, which poses likely options to complete
"hel" like "hello."
After an hour's practice, Dasher users could write at up to
25 words per minute, compared with 15 words per minute for
users of the onscreen keyboard. Onscreen keyboard users had
five times the error rate of Dasher users.
John Paulin Hansen, an associate professor at the IT
University of Copenhagen who does research on eye-typing
systems, said that Dasher was a fast, intuitive way of
typing for people who cannot use their limbs.
"This work is a breakthrough in terms of typing speed," he
said. "Twenty-five words is really something."
The software is free and can be downloaded at
www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/dasher. The program can be
controlled with an ordinary mouse; Dasher can be directed
by a variety of continuous pointing gestures, including
those made by a mouse or a gaze transduced by an eye
tracker. In an experiment in which a mouse was used as the
steering device, Dasher's capability was reported at 34
words per minute. Because of its versatility, Dasher may
one day prove useful for writing on miniature computer
screens, Dr. MacKay said.
For the test that was reported in Nature, Dr. MacKay and
his collaborator, David J. Ward, used the text of Jane
Austen's "Emma," feeding Dasher 90 percent of the novel so
that the software would be familiar with its style. Then
people in the experiment took dictation from the remaining
10 percent of the book. They listened to sentences like
"One thing only was wanting to make the prospect of the
ball completely satisfactory to Emma," and reproduced them
at their computer screens with hands-free writing, using
their gaze to create the text. The results were compared
with parallel sessions in which people used an onscreen
keyboard and eye tracker to take dictation.
The eye tracker used in the experiment was manufactured by
EyeTech Digital Systems of Mesa, Ariz. The president of the
company, Robert Chappell, said he planned to bundle Dasher
with the gaze-tracking device.
"Not everybody is going to switch," he said. "Some people
may prefer to look at a big rectangle on a computer screen
and choose each letter." But he said he expected that
Dasher would appeal to many of his customers. "It's like
driving a car - you steer after the letters and you see
words form, so you can navigate your way to phrases and
Dr. Fraser Shein, an engineering professor at the
University of Toronto who is a creator of an onscreen
keyboard, said that Dasher had potential. "His approach may
be more advantageous than pointing to a keyboard with
fixed-size keys that must be pushed usually by activating a
physical switch or pausing over a key," he said.
But Dasher may not be appropriate for users who need a full
range of writing and editing functions, he said. He also
had reservations about the display, which he thought might
tax users. "It requires the eye to view many alternatives
which are constantly changing," he said.
Dr. Hansen said he wondered how well the elderly would
adapt to Dasher and that he planned to devise experiments
to test that concern. "The floating characters in Dasher
are a new approach that you have to get used to," he said.
"We think it is a natural for youngsters, but we'll need
information to clarify the issue of whether the elderly
will be comfortable."
Dr. MacKay has some advice for people learning to use
Dasher, regardless of their age. "Start by driving slowly,"
he said, that is, pointing your gaze or mouse in the
direction you want to go and then heading there at a
moderate pace. "Start as you would if you were driving a
lawn mower," he said. "After about 10 minutes, you can
switch to a Ferrari."
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