For rare disease patients who face physical disabilities, even seemingly simple tasks can pose extreme difficulties. For instance, changing the channel on the television. Comcast Corp. previously created a voice control program that would allow those with physical disabilities to use their voice to change the channel. However, the voice-activated remote required users to simultaneously press a button while they were saying the command. For patients who are paralyzed, this technology still sadly wasn’t an option. Likewise, patients who can’t talk due to use of a breathing machine, aren’t able to use the voice-activated controls.
But now, Comcast has announced that they’ve created a new type of assistive technology that will solely rely on the user’s eye movement. For those with rare conditions such as Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) this could be life changing. Sure, it’s a seemingly small improvement. But for individuals who must rely on the assistance of others for so many things in their life, this new system can offer a new sense of independence.
In fact, when individuals with ALS were asked what things in their life were most important to them, many stated television as a major form of entertainment in their lives. The frustration of not being able to choose what they want to watch without asking for help can be incredibly frustrating.
This new technology could change things.
Essentially, by just moving their eyes, patients will be able to search for different shows, record shows, and change the channel. They will be able to do practically anything that you can do with a typical remote. There is a small bar located beneath the computer that is calibrated to the patient’s eye movements. All the patient needs to do is focus on the mouse icon for a few seconds and then switch their gaze to the button they want to activate.
ALS patients who have tested the technology for Comcast have said that they are able to understand it after just 2-5 visits from a trainer.
Jimmy Curran is a 30-year-old SMA patient who was provided the technology in order to help test its effectiveness. He is able to type and talk, however because he does not have perfect enunciation, voice-activated technology is not an option for him. Jimmy explained that he is often frustrated when his caregiver leaves because he will get stuck watching something he doesn’t want to watch. The new eye-gaze technology gave him a new kind of freedom. Not only that, but he said that it was easy to learn.
Lets talk the real details. How much does this new technology system cost? The technology itself is technically free. However, patients must get their own equipment. If it’s not covered by their insurance, that can be between 5,000 to 15,000 dollars out-of-pocket.
However, it’s clear that Comcast isn’t doing this for the money. The market for this technology is quite small. They say they’re doing it purely for customer service. The best part is, they think that this new technology also has the potential to be used for security, lighting, and home temperature Comcast products. This would allow rare patients even more freedoms.
Hopefully we will see more and more of these types of innovations in the future, and see the accessibility of such technology spread.
You can read more about this new system here.