How to communicate with a computer without using hands? A 29-year-old Computer Science Ph.D. invented a system b-Link, that allows paralysed people to control a computer through blinking.
The algorithm detecting eye blinks was the topic of Aleksandra Królak’s doctoral thesis. While working on this project she measured fatigue of people performing sustained mental work for several hours by analyzing changes in their eye blinks. At the same time she watched the "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly", a movie telling the true story of a man paralysed after an accident. He was able to move only one eye and he communicated with his nurse blinking his eyelid - she was reading alphabet and writing down letters indicated by him.
- My idea was to replace the nurse with a computer. First, I wrote a program for detecting eye blinking with a webcam. And then I thought - why not add an on-screen keyboard which would highlight letters one after another? - says Królak.
The common passion
The idea interested Orange Labs Poland (the Research & Development division of Telekomunikacja Polska (TP)) and together this enabled the realization of the b-Link project. Thanks to the cooperation of the two worlds – science and business - this idea could be brought to life. With a group of students from the Technical University of Lodz and a team of TP employees, Aleksandra Królak started to work in Orange Labs Poland. Based on the prototype of an eye-blink controlled interface they have developed fully functional and user friendly software and called it b-Link.
- For people with disabilities it is very important to have the possibility to contact and communicate with the world around them. Seemingly simple things such as typing or sending an e-mail may be an insurmountable barrier. b-Link can help those affected by fate to change their life and make it a little easier - said Krzysztof Kozłowski, head of Orange Labs Polska.
The development of b-Link took 6 months. The project team had to improve the original algorithm and adjust it to possible needs of end users. With the cooperation of two NGOs – “Mimo wszystko” (Against the Odds) and “Stowarszyszenie Przyjaciół Integracji” (Friends for Integration) working to help the disabled, Orange Labs experts visited paralysed persons to conduct usability tests on a group of Impaired people. The results of those tests gave important feedback and helped to customise the application according to the recommendations of testers.
Making the difference
The main advantage of b-Link is that it does not require any technical capability or sophisticated equipment - just an ordinary computer and a webcam. Installation of the application and the camera set-up are the only steps that require assistance of a healthy person. Later, however, the program may be used by the disabled without any help. A properly adjusted camera after detecting user’s face tracks their eyes position and detects blinking. In this way, only by blinking, a user can browse the Internet and use programs such as Word Pad, MS Word, and MS Outlook or shut down the computer.
- This project is an excellent example how theoretical work can be successfully implemented in practical applications thanks to cooperation of academia and industry - says prof. Paweł Strumiłło (PhD), head of the Medical Electronics Division at the Technical University of Lodz. - In the future it may be applied even at a larger scale. The potential field of application for controlling machines is immense and very promising.
Systems similar to b-Link already exist but require expensive or complicated equipment. The program developed together by the Technical University of Lodz and Telekomunikacja Polska is the only such application in the world available for free on the Internet. It can be downloaded in three language versions (Polish, English and French) – the software includes complete instruction manuals that are accessible once a chosen language version has been installed. All files and source codes of b-Link can be found at http://b-link.sourceforge.net/. What is more, b-Link is not just free – it is open source, allowing its further development by the Internet community. It was also published on TP and Orange Polish websites - up to now it has been downloaded over 13 thousand times.
b-Link was already praised by science and business communities as well as NGOs helping people with disabilities. The application won the gold medal at the 38th International Exhibition of Inventions in Geneva. The Polish Confederation of Private Employers “Lewiatan” (PKPP “Lewiatan”) awarded it as one of the best Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects of 2009. In October b-Link will be presented during the CSR Europe's MarketPlace Enterprise 2010 conference, together with the world’s most innovative solutions in the field of CSR.
The creators of b-Link are thrilled that their application receives excellent reviews but the greatest satisfaction comes from the stories of those whose lives it changed. Like Mariusz, who broke his neck while jumping in the water, or a young girl who blinked: "I will write poems again".
Author: Aleksandra Królak and Piotr Kowalski. Technical University of Lodz and Telekomunikacja Polska
Fuente: http://atomiumculture.eu Fecha: 9/07/2012