In our multi-connected world and advancing digitalization, smartphones, computers and tablets have become indispensable in everyday life. For many people, the handling of touch screens, keys and keyboards is therefore a natural part of their daily routine.
However, if you take a closer look, you will see that these user interfaces are not without their hurdles. Wiping, typing or striking keys requires a certain degree of mobility, which not everyone has.
The use of tablets and computers at work and in private life limits the autonomy of people with motor disabilities, as they are sometimes dependent on outside help to operate their own devices.
Startup with special problem awareness
Anton Wachner himself is confronted with this problem. In 2017, together with Kiril Kotev, he founds the startup Treye Tech, which aims to develop gaze control software (using eye-tracking methods) for people with limited mobility.
Eye-tracking is the term used to describe technology that can detect and interpret the eye movements of people. For this purpose special hardware is usually used. In contrast, Treye Tech has designed a system that enables mobile devices or even stationary computer systems to be operated by means of simple cameras through eye control.
Kiril Kotev explains how this works and what makes Treye Tech special in an interview.
Why Treye Tech?
Kiril: Our co-founder Anton Wachner has himself discovered that for many people with disabilities there are no suitable solutions available to help them operate mobile devices.
For example, in order to zoom in on a map on the mobile phone display, the display must already be touched with two fingers. Not everyone can do this. For these people it often means giving up some of their independence and having to rely on the help of others.
The name Treye Tech is intended to make various aspects clear. We still see our project as a courageous attempt to take up a challenge and create something valuable. Through the combination of “Try” from the English language and “Eye”, “Treye” was created. Since the technical aspect is very important to us and this is also the direction in which we want to develop, the name “Treye Tech” was created.
How does your eye control work and what makes it special?
Kiril: In contrast to most eye tracking systems we use the already built-in hardware of the device, for example the front camera of the smartphone. Because you don’t have to buy extra expensive cameras or sensors, our system is much cheaper and also easier to use.
The advantage of our system is also that our interface is especially designed for the comfort and needs of people with disabilities.
For example, we don’t do point-precise eye-tracking, where every movement is recorded. Instead, our navigation works by moving in four directions (i.e. up, down, right and left). You can think of it a bit like a chessboard. If the user clearly makes an eye movement to the right or left, the cursor also moves one field to the right or left. This makes the operation much easier.
During normal eye-tracking, it often happens that unconscious eye movements, such as those that occur when viewing a website, are also recorded. To avoid this, we have built in a filter that filters out such movements. This filter works in such a way that no movements are recorded in the middle of our layout.
However, our system also makes it possible to completely personalize and adapt the control to individual needs. For example, it is also possible to set a timer that executes an action after a certain amount of time that is looked at a position. Or it is possible to set that blinking triggers a certain action if this is perceived as more convenient.
Nowadays, voice control and voice recognition systems are increasingly being installed and used. Do you see this as competition?
Kiril: Voice control is certainly well suited for many situations. But by no means for all. For example, if I want to enter my password for a network in the train, I can’t do that with voice control, unless I want everyone in the train to be able to hear my password. So this is very important for privacy and data protection.
You can think of our gaze control as a gesture control that is performed with your eyes.
You develop technologies for people with disabilities. Is your focus on the social aspect or do you see yourself mainly as a technical company?
Kiril: In the long run we want to develop as a technology company.
What we offer is primarily a technology. But we can’t imagine our start-up without the social aspect because of the history and our intention. Developing technical solutions for people with disabilities is already very important to us. It is a very exciting area with a lot of potential for the future.
But it does not stop there. Our system could be extended to the medical market, for example. When you think of accident victims in intensive care units in hospitals, they are often people who have lost their freedom of movement in one fell swoop and suddenly may no longer be able to use their smartphone to keep in touch with family and friends. A simple, alternative use would certainly be very useful.
We could also imagine offering solutions for industry. For example, wherever smart devices are used and the interaction between people and technology needs to be optimized. On the one hand, this would speed up processes and, on the other hand, it would also make it possible to use devices in situations where hands are not free.
So there are still some areas of application to which eye-tracking based systems could be extended.
What is the current status of your startup?
Kiril: Recently the possibility of a cooperation arose, through which we could get feedback on the concrete application of our concept. We are currently working on an interface that is specially designed to make it easier to use at the glance of programs and can be installed as an add-on, e.g. to control smart home devices, make calls on mobile phones and much more. The integration of gaze control could therefore make life a lot easier for people.