Projects in the area of Alternative Interfaces

Neural Interfaces

Promising researches are conducted in the field of contactless technology, which are currently in development, technical diagram or design stage. There are those that are already developed and undergo tests, upgrades and improvements in various areas of our lives. Some are used successfully for the past several years. But there are projects that have completely changed many people’s lives. First of all, they have helped those with physical or speech disabilities, motor function troubles, musculoskeletal or vestibular apparatus injuries.

Neuroscientists are working for decades to create an interface that allows such people to live if not completely normal lives, but at least suffer less the consequences of their diseases and be able to communicate with family and friends, as well as with doctors and medical staff of health centers. Practice shows that, even if the person is completely paralyzed, unable to move and speak, high technology can give him the opportunity to communicate with others through special devices, brain-computer interfaces.

Brain-computer interface, often called neuro-computer by specialists or brain interface allows specialized external devices to capture brain signals and convert them into codes understandable by the computer, to display a text for example. By using such devices, a patient confined to the bed, can compose any short message for the medical stuff, for example, to ask for some water or for help in moving a cramped and uncomfortable lying arm, and so on.

If in the past such devices were bulky special high-precision equipment with many dozens of wires and sophisticated software, now neural Interface is just a recorder fixed on the head of the patient, using a cable connected to the computer and not requiring any additional drivers. The screen displays a table of alphabet characters, each of which is highlighted for a very short time (a hundred milliseconds) , and the recorder attached to the head of the patient by reading brain activity signals allows to select and display the correct character sequence, thus character by character composing and displaying messages.

The neural Interface’s planned scope of application is not just the possibility to control directly computer systems, without using standard input and output devices, but also the creation of a new generation of artificial limbs that could be as simple and natural to control as were the parts of the body that they are replacing.

Currently are in development prostheses with feedback, which will not only allow mechanical movements but also to get in return the sensations of heat, cold, pressure, weight and feel the texture of objects. Scientists predict that within 5-6 years, neural Interfaces will assist not only people with disabilities, but all the others as well. With their help, finding easily information on public networks, managing home appliances and robots will become reality. Even if all this is only a general prediction for now, the pace and the results of numerous studies clearly confirm this trend.

Eye tracking Devices

There are much more possibilities for using contactless controls in our lives than it seems, and this is especially true for gaze tracking systems, which are already massively used in the commercial sector. Ever since their development, the Eye tracking technologies are used in various advertising campaigns, marketing researches and creation of promotional literature, posters, site usability tests (ergonomics, readability level and control), and so on. The better and cheaper the equipment becomes, the greater is the demand on its services among consumers.

Numerous studies on eye movements have led scientists to the conclusion that these movements are not chaotic and largely reflect the process of human thinking. The gaze almost always follows the points that attract the attention, or those which are unusual for a given environment or situation. Although it is not yet directly established, how eye movements affect the overall thinking process, eye tracking is increasingly becoming a popular method among advertising and marketing specialists.

Eye trackers are gaze direction and eye movement measuring systems of different types. The first type gathers contactless infrared devices, and sensitive video cameras. The 50-60 frames shooting per second is most commonly used, though some of the devices used in the research can record over 1000 frames per second. The subject examining a leaflet or a site page, the camera records the movements of his eyes (or only one eye), using the infrared light reflected from the cornea. After calculating the angle of view and comparing the time spent at different areas of the provided material, the experts compose a so-called "fog map", which exposes the areas that attracted the eye the most and the longest. Based on this they determine what booklet, website or other graphics attract the subject.

The second type of eye trackers is a system of electrodes fixed around the eye of the subject that measures the variations in the electric field during eye movements. Such systems do not depend on ambient light in the room and work perfectly, even in cases where the subject's eyes are narrowed or completely closed; it does not require large computing power to handle the frame recording of eye movements, as in the first case. However it is still not widely used in site usability tests and advertisements, infrared eye trackers often being preferred instead.

The third type of gaze tracking devices is mechanical. It contains lenses with built-in magnetic device or microscopic mirrors able to accurately track the eye movements. They are rarely used in advertising field and are more appropriate for ophthalmic researches. However, it can be used with equal success for the usability or overall gaze focus on a particular area of graphic material evaluations.

Most of these devices are also different concerning the hardware implementation. They can be divided into two categories. Devices of the first type are terminals which require an accurate positioning of the use’s head, the second type of systems are mobile, fixed on the head and not restricting freedom of movement. In commercial eye tracking, mobile systems are mainly used to measure stand attractiveness and outdoor advertising, in appraising shops. To evaluate the usability of websites and print advertising, determine the overall attractiveness and "appeal" of a company’s brand and logo, video advertising or various television broadcasts the frame recording of eye movements is the mainly used method held on a special terminal.

Voice Recognition Systems

Along with the gaze tracking technology and contactless controls, voice recognition systems are also developing. Scientists have for decades trying to solve a complex problem and find a way allowing man to communicate with the hardware in the same way he does with the persons: using facial expressions, gestures, and the voice. Saying that this task is successfully completed is obviously too early, but the progress in the field of human speech recognition by control systems can be noticed from year to year.

Voice recognition is done by sensory devices (sensitive microphones) and acoustic treatment devices that convert the incoming signal into indivisible sound units: phonemes. Currently, there are two types of voice recognition: speaker dependent and independent. In the first case, the speaker should conduct a mandatory long-calibration of the system to enable the recognition of volume, tone and speed of his own voice, consequently the software system will recognize his speech with a minimum of errors and inaccuracies. In the second case, the system does not require any complicated settings and recognizes the voice of any person. These systems are very difficult to develop and have a much lower number of correctly recorded phrases, but they have the advantage to allow getting to work without any long setup.

Voice recognition systems can actually be applied to work with computers; there are various well-known manufacturers that are developing softwares for human speech recognizing based on algorithms. Currently such technologies are exclusively used for short voice commands and text dictation; the latter, being unequally well handled by different systems as various pronunciations, accents and other details make the recognition of a consistent, coherent text difficult. The recognition and grammatically accurate reproduction of speech also often fails. Also the problem of dealing with multiple sources of sound and active noise reduction still remains actual; for example, in the case of office work, when several people speak at once, and the speech is interrupted by the sound of machinery and phone calls.

However, the voice recognition systems are becoming more perfected; more sophisticated algorithms are developed to convert audio signals into text, volumes of dictionaries and the capabilities of modern computers to process large amounts of data increase. Specific fields for human-computer communication through speech develop; those are mostly online guides and voice terminals, e-commerce and increasingly popular voice mail. The growing demand for these technologies predicts that voice recognition will be further improved and applied to contactless controls.


Voice control, eye tracking technology and contactless control systems are all becoming part of everyday life. These developments, used exclusively in science, medicine, and other specialized industries, now also find a wide use in everyday life. The cost of high-tech equipments has been steadily decreasing, while the demand is beginning to grow, everybody appreciating the convenience of intuitive control. Even if for now the main criterion for buying this kind of technology is still its novelty, soon remote contactless control systems will be an integral part of our daily life.