Eye Gaze technology can allow people with limited movement to interact with devices in order to communicate via AAC software. as well as perform other needed functions such as surfing the web, writing emails and letters, playing music and video content and controlling things around the home.
While these systems have been around for many years, until recently, they have mainly only run on Windows computers. However, there are now two approved eye tracking cameras for Apple iPadOS.
ComTEC have been exploring these recently, and have the systems available for individuals and teams to compare in person when they engage with a ComTEC advisory session.
It's important to keep in mind that experiences of eye tracking technology may vary from person to person, and there are many factors to consider when making choices.
Comparing Apple® MFi [certified] Options
What is Apple® MFi?
'MFi' stands for 'Made for iPhone / iPad' which are all Apple® products that use “USB-to-Lightning” prongs. Producers of accessories for those devices must go through a stringent program to have their products approved by Apple®.
The Apple MFi certification indicates that the accessory was inspected and regulated by Apple and that they deem them safe to be used in their products. In addition, you are assured that there won't be potential damages or malfunctions that would occur as a result of using their accessories.
The following is a summary of what we've learned which we hope helps inform decisions. Links to where to go the learn more about this exciting area of AT are included toward the end of this blog post.
Apple MFi (certified) options available in Australia and worldwide
Of the three main eye gaze systems for iPad, two of these are Apple MFi certified:
- TD Pilot
- Irisbond Hiru
The Skyle 2 is not yet Apple MFi certified.
The TD Pilot is made by Tobii Dynavox and differs from the others as this is sold as an all-in-one Speech Generating Device. This means that it comes with an onboard battery, speakers, rear black and white screen showing message window contents, and ports for switches.
Currently, you cannot BYO (Bring your own) iPad. It is sold 'as is' with additional Apple Care warranty.
There is a mount plate on the back allowing fixing to the mount of your choice (eye tracking devices need to be mounted in position to work well) but it can free stand on a secure tabletop if required due to the weight and shape of the base. This is the most expensive option at around $17K in total.
As well as standard iOS applications, the Pilot runs it's own TD apps (TD Talk, TD Snap, and TD CoPilot). These are optimised for eye tracking, meaning the targets are 'sticky'. The user can approximate their gaze and the system will allow them to make selections by dwelling or using their switch.
There is also an offscreen virtual controls menu, activated below the bottom edge of the screen, to pause selections. The maximum calibration option is 9 pts (more about that soon).
The inbuilt eye tracker is sold as being outdoor capable, and is the result of many years of TD research and development as market leader in eye tracking technology.
Hiru is the newest of the three systems. It is designed and developed by Irisbond, a Spanish based company with relationships with other AAC and AT manufacturers incuding PRC/Saltillo, TherapyBox UK, and Rehadapt.
This eye tracker is is compatible with any recent USB C iPad (incudes iPad Pro 11-inch (1st generation or later) iPad Pro 12.9-inch (3rd generation or later) iPad Air 10.9 inch (4th generation or later).
A unique feature of Hiru is it is the only truly cross platform option, that is, it works on iPad or Windows.
The Apple version also works when connected to Windows devices.
Another key point of differentiation from the others is the option of 16 pt calibration. This allows for greater accuracy of selection particularly when eye tracking is used within the iPad OS environment (16 pts generally equates to being able to get to smaller targets). This is important because all iPad OS based eye trackers currently require the use of the Assistive Touch Menu to get access to any function other than simple dwell click [The user needs to look at the Assistive Touch menu in order to navigate or do things like adjust the output volume).
Hiru has a video on calibration setup with a child or someone with head movements or eye conditions. The video also shows how an image can be used for calibration.
Hiru can be purchased as just the eye tracker (which would be fitted to the device via a mounting bracket) or with 2 current compatible case options - Irisbond Oskol (which is a rubberized protective surround with rear mount plate and enclosure for the provided approved USB C hub) or the Rehadaptor (a durable hard case with built in speaker, switch ports, and mount plate).
Another case option not yet available in Australia is the VersaEye. It is possible however, to purchase an external bluetooth Versa speaker for both this and the Oskol locally, should this be required for AAC output.
While any AAC app can be accessed by eye gaze point and click, currently only Predictable and TouchChart HD are designed to take advantage of the Hiru's eye tracking functionality.
These apps provide in app calibration and adjustments for features such as cursor size, colour, selection method and timing. Irisbond are continually adding to the functionality of Hiru through app and firmware updates.
As the name suggests Skyle 2 is the second generation of the system. Skyle was actually the first MFI approved eye tracker way back in 2020. This camera is designed and made by the German company eyeV and distributed internationally via the Inclusive Technologies network.
The system consists of a plastic enclosure for recent iPad Pro 12.9" models, incorporating the camera and an approved USB C hub.
The back of the case provides VESA screw threads for fitting of an optional mount plate adaptor or connection to a monitor arm. Calibration is 1, 2, 5, or 9 point and is achieved by the included Skyle app.
At time of writing we aren't aware of any AAC apps which are specifically designed to use the Skyle 2.
Where can these options be obtained in Australia?
TD Pilot is sold and supported exclusively by Link Assistive. The device can be purchased outright, or hired (3 month minimum) or trialled. As of late July, current wait times for Hire are 4 weeks from time of approval. Link Assistive trials are available from late September. Prices are available on enquiry.
Hiru and Oskol
Hiru and Oskol are available from the following suppliers:
At time of writing only Novitatech and Control Bionics have hire units (which come with the iPad included) available (within 2 weeks from time of approval). Novitatech can do an unlimited duration weekly hire (with contract requiring the system to be returned in saleable condition) whereas Control Bionics offer 3 month term which can be renewed for an additional period.
How can ComTEC help?
ComTEC has all three systems available for people and teams to explore during advisory sessions.
ComTEC’s speech pathologists and occupational therapists have extensive experience working with eye gaze systems, supporting individuals and teams with a wide range of abilities and preferences.
ComTEC can assist you to:
- Learn more about how eye gaze technology works
- Setup eye gaze for an individual to trial during an advisory session
- Guide you through the process of prioritising functionality and suitability
- Support you with finding suppliers and, where appropriate, assist with implementation
- Consider the steps and supports to building skills for eyegaze implementation and use
- Explore and decide what mounting systems you might need to make sure the system is in the best and safest position
- Learn and train your support team to set up and customise the eyegaze for all the tasks you need it to control
Make a referral for a ComTEC advisory session to get started with eye gaze.