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'Eagle Eyes' enable users to soar

eagleeyes project

By Todd Hollingshead
The Salt Lake Tribune
31 January, 2006

Instructor Maureen Gates helps Britt Allen maneuver through a video game as he uses a new eye-based technology called EagleEyes at
Oakridge School in Springville. The devices also help with serious studies SPRINGVILLE - Britt Allen is an ace when it comes to zapping aliens - with his eyes.
He may not have laser-beam sight like Superman, but just one glance sends the intruders to oblivion.

On Monday, the 24-year-old - whose cerebral palsy has him in a wheelchair and inhibits his speech - shot down video-game aliens with perfection as he demonstrated a new eye-based technology to faculty at Oakridge School.

The EagleEyes technology enables nonverbal and paralyzed students to play games, type words and even express feelings simply by moving their eyes.

Boston College and the Salt Lake City-based Opportunity Foundation of America teamed up to donate two of the $1,200 devices to Oakridge on Monday, making the Springville school for severely disabled students the second statewide with the tool.

Last June, Jordan District's Jordan Valley School in Midvale became the first school in the nation to receive the groundbreaking EagleEyes devices.

"We were so enamored with what this technology could do," said Debbie Inkley, founder and executive director of The Opportunity Foundation of America. "It is not a magic answer, but it is a means to help young people move on with their life."
EagleEyes fosters communication and independent activity through a computer by translating eye movement into mouse movement.

Several electrodes attached to a student's head detect movement, then send the signal to a small box apparatus, which then relays it to the computer.

Just like that, a paralyzed child can play video games, type out sentences or study on the computer
with a flash of the eye.

"It takes a lot of practice and patience," said Rick Olivares, whose 12-year-old son Cameron has cerebral palsy and attends Jordan Valley. "Hopefully. it will open up new windows of communication."

Oakridge landed two of the devices by promising to act as a trainer location for other schools and individuals looking to use the technology.

Boston College recently signed a licensing agreement with The Opportunity Foundation to distribute the devices for free, and five more special-needs schools in Utah are slated to receive the gear this year.

Oakridge Principal Richard Kay believes the device can be used as a tool for autistic children and students with communicative disabilities. He plans to give every one of his 34 students a chance to use it.

"If we can help them with those communication skills, all sorts of other things will open up," Kay said. "I see EagleEyes as a way for students to access themselves and the outer world."

Students at Jordan Valley have made great advances, said teacher Linda Eller. "It has empowered them to be in control."