As far back as the early 1900s, scientists, engineers, and psychologists have been creating devices that track the movement of people’s eyes. Early devices — like Edmund Huey’s contact lenses connected to aluminum pointers — were intrusive and limited in their function, but modern eye-tracking uses infrared light reflected off the eye to provide nearly instantaneous tracking of eye movements.
Much of this technology has been used in research settings, in which scientists examine the varied ways eyes function, but several companies have harnessed it to help people with disabilities. EyeTech uses proprietary eye-tracking software to create tablets for the augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) community.
What Are Eye-Tracking Tablets?
Designed for nonverbal patients, eye-tracking tablets are a type of AAC tool that allows you to control them through eye movements. Through the use of cameras, eye-tracking tablets monitor the movement of your pupils, essentially using them like a computer mouse cursor.
For people with cerebral palsy, autism, muscular dystrophy, ALS, strokes, or any other condition that hinders verbal abilities, eye tracking is a valuable tool that can restore communicative capacities. Some companies, such as GazeRecorder, create flexible eye-tracking software that can work with your webcam. Others, such as Tobii, create eye-tracking devices that can mount on your iPad.
Then there are companies like EyeTech that create stand-alone tablets with eye-tracking software built in.
EyeTech Tablets at a Glance
Based in Tempe, Arizona, EyeTech Digital Systems creates eye-tracking tablets that use the company’s proprietary OnBright AAC software. EyeTech tablets resemble an iPad or Samsung tablet, but they use the company’s own software, which allows for simplified communication and control features.
Through OnBright, the application suite used on EyeOn tablets, you can control every feature of your tablet using your eyes.
With EyeOn tablets, you can type messages, select prewritten phrases, control smart devices, and even play games.
EyeOn devices are FDA-registered AAC devices, so they’re covered by Medicaid, Medicare, and some private insurance plans.
How Does the EyeOn Tablet Work?
I tested the EyeOn Elite, the premier model from EyeTech. After a quick calibration period — in which I shifted my gaze to various points on the screen — I was ready to use the tablet.
Both EyeOn tablets feature touchscreens as a backup, but they’re intended to be used primarily through eye-tracking. Through a built-in camera, an EyeOn tablet syncs with the movement of your eyes. The result is that you can use your eyes almost like a computer mouse cursor. EyeOn tablets also have an infrared illumination system, allowing their eye-tracking to work even in the dark.
First I tried the communication features through the BrightTalk app. I could use my eyes to either type messages with a keyboard or choose from prewritten phrases for quicker communication. I also could press a button either by blinking or momentarily holding my gaze over the button.
Next I used the BrightControl app, which allowed me to pair smart devices to my EyeOn tablet and control them with my eyes. I used this tablet in a convention setting — and thus didn’t have my entire smartphone setup — but this feature would come in handy for controlling lights, televisions, music, or any other smart device.
Finally, I tried my hand at some games. EyeTech tablets have support for a variety of games, and the one I played involved shooting down incoming asteroids with my eyes. The EyeOn tablet also has support for web browsing, where you can access additional eye-tracking features.
Where Can You Buy EyeTech Tablets?
To purchase an EyeTech tablet, reach out to the company through its website and request a free demo. From there, a regional representative can set up an appointment, during which you can test some EyeTech products and determine which ones may work for your needs.
How Much Do EyeTech Tablets Cost?
The cost of an EyeTech system will vary, as will the cost of a proper mounting rig for the tablet Since EyeOn tablets are FDA-registered AAC devices, Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance may cover the cost. An EyeTech representative can help you figure out the most effective way to pay for the devices.
To learn more about emerging technologies in the world of assistive technology, check out our other guides.
Ryan has years of experience researching and testing products that help people successfully age in place. After years of working for various publications such as Boston Magazine and The Believer, he has found his home at The Senior List, writing about all things related to caregiving and senior healthcare.