EagleEyes Soars

EagleEyes Soars

Technology that helps the multiply handicapped use computers now serving users beyond campus

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

EagleEyes, the innovative technology devised at Boston College that allows the disabled to control a computer at the blink of an eye, has gained a following that now extends well beyond Greater Boston and New England.

The system that got its start in the computer labs of Fulton Hall and the classrooms of the Campus School is now being used at a dozen sites in clinics and private homes in North America and Europe.

Teacher Marialice Curran, an alumna of the Lynch School of Education, works with Julia Drummond using EagleEyes technology at the South Shore Educational Collaborative in Hingham, one of several sites now using EagleEyes.

Developed by Prof. James Gips and Assoc. Prof. Peter Olivieri of the Carroll School of Management's Computer Science Department and Assoc. Prof. Joseph Tecce (Psychology), EagleEyes enables the user to operate a computer by moving the eyes or head. Electrodes attached around the eyes pick up the movements, convert them to electrical signals and send them to the computer, much like a hand-held mouse.

The system has been used to great effect at the Campus School, a facility in Campion Hall offering programs for multiply handicapped youngsters. But EagleEyes has been gaining a steadily growing usership off campus through licensing agreements struck with Boston College.

According to Gips, systems are in use at collaborative schools in Middleboro and Hingham and in the homes of six Massachusetts families, among other locations. BC is negotiating licenses with a university in Nova Scotia and an assistive-technology center in Birmingham, England. One system was being demonstrated in New Jersey this past week for a 50-year-old man with cerebral palsy.

Boston College provides the software and training free of charge, said Gips, while the required hardware is available from private vendors for about $6,000.

Gips said Campus School Director Philip DiMattia and his staff have played a lead role in spreading the word on EagleEyes, describing as "astonishing" their work in using the technology "to help and educate children."

Chance has also played a part in the spread of EagleEyes, Gips added.

This past June, a young woman visiting from England, who has cerebral palsy, saw a demonstration of the system at Walt Disney World's Epcot Center in Florida. She had struck up an acquaintance with Michael Nash, a similarly disabled Marshfield teen who accompanied the BC contingent as a pioneer user of EagleEyes. The young woman's school in West Yorkshire, England, has since signed a license for a system.

Another placement stemmed from an EagleEyes presentation done for incoming BC freshmen and their families last year by Gips, DiMattia and Nash. One parent, Joseph McLaughlin, was so impressed he arranged for a system at the early intervention center he directs in Mansfield, Conn.

Gips said he was pleased the technology he helped devise was finding such increasingly wide placement, with the number of users doubling on a yearly basis.

"It's enormously rewarding," he said. "What started as a laboratory curiosity has really helped many children and their families."

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