Samsung Takes Eye-Scrolling Technology to Disabled Community

By Jonathan Cheng, Wall Street Journal, November 25, 2014

Shin Hyung-jin is shown operating the new EYECAN+.

Shin Hyung-jin (lying down) uses Samsung’s eye-operated
mouse to type at a demonstration event on Tuesday.
(Photo by Samsung Electronics Co.)

Samsung Electronics said Tuesday it has developed a next-generation mouse that can help people with disabilities type, scroll and navigate the Internet without the use of hands.

The project, called EYECAN+, uses a sensor mounted below a computer monitor to read a user’s eye movements, with a blink of the eye used to register a click of the mouse to either copy, paste, select all, zoom in or activate another of 18 basic computer functions.

If this all sounds familiar, that may be because the company had previously piloted a commercial version of this technology with the Galaxy S4 smartphone.

The technology, called Smart Scroll, purported to allow a user to scroll down a page of text on his or her smartphone, simply by moving his or her eyes.

Using the Galaxy S4′s front-facing camera to track a user’s retinal movements, the Smart Scroll feature could also pause a video when it noticed that a user’s eyes had turned away.

When it was released, the feature earned a few plaudits — but triggered even more head-scratching over its utility. (A year later, Smart Scroll was conspicuous in its absence on the Galaxy S5, which succeeded the Galaxy S4 in April.)

EYECAN+ was developed in collaboration with Shin Hyung-jin, a graduate student in computer science at Seoul’s Yonsei University, who was born quadriplegic.

During a demo at Samsung’s headquarters on Tuesday, Mr. Shin, lying on his side, used his eyes to type, in Korean, “It’s nice to meet everyone.” The task took several minutes, but was done accurately, with Mr. Shin using his eyes to scroll a mouse over an on-screen keyboard.

The new technology itself is an upgrade on the original eyeCan, which the company introduced in 2012. That original iteration was far clunkier, requiring a user to wear a pair of glasses with a big mounted camera aimed at the retina.

The current EYECAN+ doesn’t require the user to wear any headset, and purports to adapt to a user’s eye movements after an initial calibration.

Samsung won’t sell the EYECAN+ device commercially, but will instead manufacture a limited number to donate to charities. But that doesn’t mean the EYECAN+ work isn’t connected to Samsung’s bread-and-butter work in the mobile industry.

In an interview, Park Jung-hoon, a Samsung senior engineer on the project, said that there was room for the company’s mainstream commercial work to borrow technology from its socially-minded work, and vice versa. Mr. Park added that the company’s current interest in virtual-reality headsets, including the launch in September of a Gear VR device, could also find an alternative use in its work with disabled people.

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