Eye-tracking hackathon helping people with mobility challenges

By Costa Maragos Posted: February 2, 2018 6:00 a.m.

(l-r) Dr. Christian Riegel, English Professor at Campion College; Megan Smith, Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies (MAP) and Dr. Katherine Robinson, Psychology Professor at Campion College.
(l-r) Dr. Christian Riegel, English Professor at Campion College; Megan Smith, Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies (MAP) and Dr. Katherine Robinson, Psychology Professor at Campion College. Photo by Rae Graham - U of R Photography

A thin black bar, about 30 centimetres long and a centimeter wide, is helping bring a new found freedom for people with mobility challenges.

Now a U of R research team is putting this technology to greater use.

The Tobii 4C eye-tracker allows people to use their eyes to navigate a computer screen. The tracker is typically needed by people who are unable to use a computer interface that requires a mouse, trackpad and a keyboard.

“I’m very excited with what we can do with this,” says Megan Smith, Assistant Professor in Creative Technologies in the Faculty of Media, Art, and Performance and a member of the research team.

That team is holding the Eye Tracking and Art Creation for the Mobility challenged Hackathon on Saturday, February 3 at 9:00 a.m. at the IMPACT Lab at the U of R’s Innovation Place. Participants are asked to pre-register by contacting Christian Riegel - Christian.riegel@uregina.ca

“We expect several people with mobility challenges to be there,” says Dr. Christian Riegel, Professor of English at the U of R’s Campion College.

“One of the goals of our project is to better understand how collaborative interdisciplinary approaches, that will involve community members, can be used to examine technology solutions.”

Christian Riegel
Dr. Christian Riegel with the eye-tracker. U of R Photography

This research is all about collaboration.

Riegel is the project lead and is working with Megan Smith (MAP), Katherine Robinson, Professor of Psychology at Campion College and Randy Johner, Associate Professor of Social Work.

People from the community are encouraged to take part in the hackathon which is designed to allow people from a range of disciplines and backgrounds (faculty, staff, students and community members) to start with a basic kit of a small portable eye tracking unit with code written specifically to control the unit and a computer.

The task of each team is to devise ways to use the technology to create art.

“A hackathon format is ideal for this task as it allows people from multiple backgrounds to approach the challenge and to inform possible ways to a solution,” says Riegel.

Participants will use the eye tracker to draw lines, objects, and shapes of various kinds on a computer screen as a way to express themselves creatively.
“The ability to create art comes into play a lot here,” says Robinson. “It’s about using something that has a clear function and a clear purpose, but also expanding its purpose to give people pleasure. That’s really important.”

The hackathon is supported thanks to a Connection Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and funding from the Humanities Research Institute

The U of R team is working with Carlton University’s Visual Simulation Lab, which is also holding a hackathon. A joint follow-up colloquium will be held to compare notes.

However, the researchers are involving people from the community, including presenting research results.

“We’re consulting with the community right from the beginning,” says Smith. “There’s no point in going down this road and then in a year or two, we consult with the community with something we perceive they might need. We have to start now.”

In the meantime, there are still some spots open for anyone wanting to take part at the Hackathon.

Participants are encouraged to pre-register. For further information contact Christian Riegel – Christian.riegel@uregina.ca

Event:  Eye Tracking and Art Creation for the Mobility Challenged Hackathon
When:  Saturday February, 3rd, 9:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Where: IMPACT Lab, Innovation Place, University of Regina. 10 Research Drive #120

Coffee breaks and lunch will be provided free of charge for all participants.