What is ALS disease, and why is eye tracking related to it?

How is eye tracking or eye gaze part of the "cure" for ALS?

asked 05 Sep '14, 13:12

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phyatt ♦♦
accept rate: 8%

edited 10 Sep '14, 15:24

What is ALS

Empahsis added to terms; first paragraphs were only included.

Google has the definition:

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, is a disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. ALS is also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

ALS Association has this definition:

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as "Lou Gehrig's Disease," is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed.

As of September 2014, Wikipedia had the following definition under Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis:

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)— Lou Gehrig's disease, and rarely Charcot disease—is a neurodegenerative disorder with various causes. The term motor neurone disease (MND) is sometimes used interchangeably with ALS, while others use it to refer to a group of similar conditions that include ALS. ALS is characterised by muscle spasticity, rapidly progressive weakness due to muscle wasting. This results in difficulty speaking, swallowing, and breathing. The disease usually starts around the age of 60, except in cases that are directly inherited when the usual age of onset is around 50.

Steve Gleason

Steve Gleason has ALS and uses eye tracking. He wrote the following article about it:

Washington Post - Former NFL player with ALS uses his eyes to type and technology to speak

The entire article is awesome. Here are two consecutive paragraphs from the article with direct reference to Eye Tracking/Eye Gaze and ALS and SGD (Speech Generation Device).

When a person is diagnosed with ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, he is expected to fade away quietly and die. This is not okay. The average life expectancy is two to five years after diagnosis. Along with thousands of others, I am determined to not fade away quietly. By communicating with other patients, it became clear to me that with a sense of purpose, the right support and the right technology, it is possible to live a meaningful life despite ALS.

Currently, I use a machine that helps me breathe, and I have a feeding tube for nutrition. I communicate by typing with my eyes onto a small computer tablet attached to my wheelchair. Medicare calls this a speech-generating device, or SGD. The words that I type can then be selected to be spoken or sent in an e-mail, text or chat. I am able to use the same SGD to pay bills, set a budget, call/text/e-mail for help, play a video for my son, write this article and much more. This technology is life-sustaining, and it allows me to be independent and productive. In a sense, this tablet is a cure for me.

Here is another article that talks about it.

Seattle Post - Former NFL player Steve Gleason on the Ice Bucket Challenge

In the ice bucket challenge by Microsoft's CEO he references Eye Tracking and its strides towards aiding those with ALS.

YouTube - Satya Nadella Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS

He mentions (at 38 seconds into the video) how the team behind him at the Hackathon (attended by Steve Gleason) contributed to technology using Eye Gaze and how it can "give new hope to those with ALS".

Eye Tracking - Part of the Cure

The gradual loss of motor function by ALS, makes eye tracking part of the cure for ALS. At different stages of the disease, speech and use of the hands are lost.

As people lose the ability to use a computer, eye tracking can replace pointing and clicking. As people lose the ability to speak, eye tracking with a Speech Generation Device (SGD) can make an interface to translate eye movements into spoken words.

Eye tracking gives purpose and life to those that would be handicapped not just by loss of words, but by loss of access and control of the digital world.

Speech Generating Devices, often are of the form of a software program that show large buttons that can be clicked on easily with an Eye Tracker or a finger on a touch screen, that verbalizes the phrase or word clicked on.

Eye tracking works by putting a camera with two offset infrared lights under a monitor pointed at a user's eyes. After a short calibration, the user gains control of moving a cursor or interacting with specialized programs that use the eye tracking API. Because of the nature of eye tracking, larger buttons are typically required (1"x1" or larger on the screen).

QuickACCESS and QuickGLANCE are two of the mouse control software programs developed by EyeTech to provide hands-free control of the mouse in Windows. The QuickLINK 2 API gives access to software solutions to become eye tracking enabled speech generation devices. Eye tracking on Android is available through Eye Tech's AEye, eye-tracking-on-a-chip technology, and more Android solutions are expected in the future.


answered 05 Sep '14, 14:13

phyatt's gravatar image

phyatt ♦♦
accept rate: 8%

edited 05 Sep '14, 14:19

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Asked: 05 Sep '14, 13:12

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Last updated: 10 Sep '14, 15:24

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