APPLIED SCIENCE & ENGINEERING LABORATORIES
duPont Hospital for Children and the University of Delaware
Vol. 2, No. 1 -- Fall 1996
LC Technologies was started by two signal processing experts, Dixon Cleveland, and Joseph A. Lahoud, in the mid-1980s. After years of work, LC Technologies produced two different Eyegaze Systems. The Eyegaze Development System is for researchers and others interested in developing custom eye tracking applications. The Eyegaze Communication System is a device allowing people with no use of their hands to: communicate, control their environment, and operate personal computers. This article shows you how consumers using the Eyegaze Communication System help LC Technologies refine and improve the system.
The Eyegaze Computer/Communi-cation System is an eye-operated device for people with severe physical disabilities. Sitting comfortably in front of a computer screen and moving one eye, a person can communicate, control the environment, and operate the computer by means of on-screen keyboards.
Building on work by others in the field of automatic eyetracking, LC Technologies developed the Eyegaze System to make the world of computers accessible to people who cannot use standard, hand-operated input devices.
Although Eyegaze is based on complex technology, it is remarkably easy to use. One reason for this ease of operation is the ongoing participation of the people who use the system. People who use the system provide LC Technologies with thoughts and ideas, which the company incorporates into the ongoing design of the system. This continuous interaction between the Eyegaze designers and consumers is standard procedure. All the following are examples of improvements made in Eyegaze as a result of suggestions from the users.
The keys in the visual Eyegaze keyboards can be displayed either as three- dimensional keys with bright colored backgrounds or as two-dimensional black-and- white keys. Although this was a simple option to provide, it never occurred to us until we started getting feedback from our customers, that people would prefer one display over the other, or that some people might prefer one and some the other.
Another simple but significant improvement made in the Eyegaze System also pertains to the keyboards. We learned from many of our customers, mostly young children, that they would like to have the option of using keyboards with larger keys containing only capital letters, which are easier to see and easier for learning. We later discovered, again after more customer feedback, that many people preferred the larger keys, not just the children, including people who are still "training" their eyes to activate the smaller keys, or people with eyeglasses who like to occasionally remove their glasses and still see the keys.
As a result of our experience coming from more than one hundred Eyegaze Systems in use around the world, it appears that the greatest benefit for people with disabilities is the use of the Eyegaze computer keyboards for running off-the- shelf software, especially word processors. From the very beginning of our design work, it was our intent to give Eyegaze users the opportunity to run commercially available software programs. One of the more interesting discoveries we made, however, from talking and listening to our customers, was that many people, again mostly children, like to use the simple "qwerty" keyboard, which is one of four keyboard options that come with Eyegaze, but one that does not offer the opportunity to run off-the-shelf software. Children doing their homework, for example, want to be able to save, edit, and print their work without using the more complex computer keyboards. As a consequence of the many suggestions made by our customers, we added several word processing-type functions to the "qwerty" keyboard option. After these improvements were announced, we were surprised to learn that many adult users also preferred the "qwerty" keyboard option.
Because LC Technologies is a small, family-run business, it can get consumer input without defining special strategies to involve customers. All 10 full-time employees are in contact with consumers almost every day. To purchase an Eyegaze system, a consumer has the opportunity to "test-drive" the system during a home-evaluation process. The training and evaluation processes give us plenty of opportunities to interact with users. We also exhibit at conferences, where we do mini-evaluations, and hear plenty of feedback. We’ve used traditional marketing and customer-service tools as our methods of getting consumer input.
With the delivery of each new Eyegaze System, LC Technologies adds another name to a growing list of people who contribute to the on-going development of improved, high quality Eyegaze products.
-Joseph A. Lahoud and Jettie J. Lahoud