Drive your wheelchair with your eyes

By | 2017-01-13T20:43:10+00:00 March 19th, 2013|
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google-glass-wheelchairThe latest buzz-worthy gadget that’s aiming to change how we interact with our environment is straight from Google. It’s called “Google Glass” and it’s exactly what it sounds like – a pair of glasses that you wear. But these are much more than your average pair of glasses.

Google Glass has a built-in computer that lets you do all the things you’d do on your smartphone or computer, but using your eyes instead of your fingers. This will be revolutionary for everyone, and not surprisingly, it didn’t take long for a engineer to find a way to apply this technology to help those with disabilities. His name is Steve McHugh, an engineer from Wayfair, and he came up with this idea thanks to Google’s Glass Explorer Contest, where they put the call out to engineers asking, “What would you do with Google Glass?”

Even though see he doesn’t have a disability himself, it was a class he took at Tufts University, where he worked on creating built-in eye tracking software (using a web cam) that was intended to help people with limited mobility better operate their wheelchairs. Using one’s eyes to operate a wheelchair is not a new idea, but using Google Glass, a $1,500 gadget, is something that could help perfect this idea. While Steve doesn’t know if he won the contest yet, hopefully someone out there will manage to create this app so it can become a reality one day.

Here’s how his proposed idea would work. For starters, the app will only work on a power wheelchairs (sorry manual chair users, but it would be impossible to make this a reality on a chair without electricity). Once you put the glasses on and turn on the app, in your viewpoint you’ll see an “Increase Speed” button and a “Decrease Speed” button, as well as a “Stop” button at the top of your view. Simply look at the button for a few seconds, and it will be activated. There’s also a bubble at the bottom of your view that tells you how fast you’re going and if you’re accelerating or slowing down. This is quite a novel invention (to put it lightly).

I’ve been dreaming of driving my wheelchair without hands ever since the TV show, Birds of Prey, based on Batgirl becoming paralyzed (and turning into Oracle) was on Fox. In this show, Oracle had a mind-controlled power wheelchair. She could hold her boyfriend’s hand, a cup of coffee in the other and still drive in a forward motion. I was so jealous of this! And now it looks like, thanks to Google Glass, this could be a reality. Sure, you have to wear a pair of glasses, but they’re not that dorky-looking. Even if they were, the benefits definitely outweigh the geeky aesthetics.

As it stands, Steve’s idea is still just that – an idea. But it’s getting a lot of buzz online, which means he’s definitely onto something exciting. Hopefully (fingers crossed), Google will end up funding Steve’s idea. As commenter’s online have said, Google Glass definitely has a higher purpose than making it easier for people to dictate an e-mail while walking. And this eye-controlled wheelchair app is it.

Would you use Google Glass to control your wheelchair?

Watch how Google Glass feels when you have it on

Read more about Steve McHugh’s wheelchair app idea