Imperial's Pong gives disabled the scent - and a glimpse - of gaming

University students have developed a computer game, operated by eye movements, which could allow people with severe physical disabilities to become gamers for the first time.

The students, from Imperial College, London, have adapted the open source game Pong, where a player moves a bat to hit a ball as it bounces around the screen, by enabling players to move the bat using their eye.

The user wears special glasses containing an infrared light and a webcam that records the movement of one eye. The webcam is linked to a laptop where a computer program syncs the player's eye movements to the game.

The prototype game is very simple but the students believe that the technology behind it could be adapted to create more sophisticated games and applications such as wheelchairs and computer cursors controlled by eye movements.

Eye leveller

One of the major benefits of the new technology is that it is inexpensive, using off-the-shelf hardware and costing approximately £25 to make. Eye movement systems that scientists currently use to study the brain and eye motion cost around £27,000, say the researchers.

Dr Aldo Faisal, a lecturer in neurotechnology and the team’s supervisor, working across the departments of computing and bioengineering, said: “Remarkably, our undergraduates have created this piece of neurotechnology using bits of kit that you can buy in a shop, such as webcams.

"The game that they’ve developed is quite simple, but we think it has enormous potential, particularly because it doesn’t need lots of expensive equipment. We hope to eventually make the technology available online so anyone can have a go at creating new applications and games with it and we’re optimistic about where this might lead. 

"We hope it could ultimately provide entertainment options for people who have very little movement. In the future, people might be able to blink to turn pages in an electronic book, or switch on their favourite song, with the roll of an eye.”

Eye on the world

Ian Beer, a third year undergraduate from the Department of Computing, said: "This game is just an early prototype, but we're really excited that from our student project we've managed to come up with something that could ultimately help people who have really limited movement. It would be fantastic to see lots of people across the world creating new games and applications using our software.”

Researchers in Dr Faisal’s lab are now refining the technology so that it can monitor movements in both eyes. This would enable a user to carry out more complicated tasks, such as plotting a journey on screen. This might ultimately allow them to use eye movements to steer a motorised wheelchair.

Imperial’s student team includes William Abbot, Department of Bioengineering; Oliver Rogers, Department of Maths and Department of Computing; Tim Treglown, Department of Maths and Department of Computing; Aaron Berk, Department of Computing; Ian Beer, Department of Computing.

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