Q&A: How this wearable gives independence to patients with motor neurone diseases

The rise of wearable devices has brought about a change in the way patients manage their health and conditions on a day-to-day basis. However, whilst conditions such as diabetes and COPD are regularly targeted by the industry, alongside general quality of life products, rarer diseases are harder to cater for.  Now, this digital health company is wanting to help patients with Locked-In syndrome gain a new sense of independence. The team at EyeControl have developed what they’re calling the first wearable eye-tracking device for patients with Locked-In syndrome, which is commonly associated with motor neurone diseases (MND) such as ALS, stroke and traumatic brain injury. Here, Digital Health Age sits down with CEO and co-founder of EyeControl, Or Retzkin to discuss the device and where the inspiration came from to help Locked-In patients.


EyeControl is one of the first devices I’ve seen designed for “Locked-In” patients. Where did the idea and inspiration for the device come from?

The company was established in January 2016, but the idea was formed long before that, when a group of individuals with a personal connection to “locked-in” patients came together to create a communication solution.

I myself have witnessed the effects of this debilitating syndrome after my grandmother was diagnosed with ALS many years ago. Everyone involved in the company has their own personal story and experience with locked-in syndrome and for that reason we have a strong passion for improving the quality of life for locked-in patients. We want to advance the method of communication within medical centres by providing a wearable, screen free and simple to use communication device.


Could you explain how EyeControl works and what the learning curve is like for users?

A head-mounted infrared camera tracks the eye movements and sends the information to a small processing unit which translates the movements into communication.

The bone conduction component provides audio feedback to the user before the communication is transmitted to the output speaker or connected Bluetooth device, all without the need for a screen. The device does not obstruct the view so patients can maintain eye contact while communicating and the user may change the gender or language of the audio menu and the external voice. Additionally, the patient can use predefined sentences or teach the EyeControl personalised syntax.


How important is it for patients with ‘Locked-In” syndrome to retain a sense of independence and what’s the response been like from patients when using EyeControl?

Communication is freedom and as our late visionary co-founder, Shay Rishoni said “It’s not easy being an ALS patient, but the most critical struggle is the struggle to communicate. Communication is a life saver.”

It’s absolutely imperative that locked-in patients maintain a sense of independence and the EyeControl introduces a new reality of accessibility for locked-in individuals to communicate with their friends, family, and carers, transforming everyday tasks for both users and their carers. Individuals are now able to communicate immediately upon waking, while in the bathroom, indoors, outdoors and even while travelling – situations that alternative devices have not been able to accommodate. We hope to inspire a new sense of independence for these individuals and the response so far has been extraordinary. We recently trialled the device with patients in London and it received great feedback, with patients finding the device much more simple to use compared to other devices.

One of the reactions that I will remember from the users, is that the EyeControl makes you feel more free because you don’t need to rely on the screen or any specific position in order to communicate.


Do you think there should be more wearables targeted at specific patient demographics such as “Locked-In” syndrome?   

 Absolutely! Technologies are advancing at rapid rates and wherever possible, we should be looking at how we can use these technologies to improve the lives of specific patient demographics, and their carers too.


You’ve been trying to raise funds via Indiegogo, are there any other funding plans in place if this effort doesn’t succeed?

Funding for the company was not the only goal of the Indiegogo campaign. The campaign was meant to create awareness and engage local communities in this initiative. The device itself is very reasonably priced and we have been contacted by many patients who want to purchase one. We have some wonderful people supporting us.


What are the benefits to carers using EyeControl with their patients?

 Not only does The EyeControl give a sense of freedom to patients, but it also aids carers, who are able to easily and quickly understand if there is some kind of problem. The device features a shortcut for patients to call for help and enables them to quickly notify their carer if they are chocking or struggling to breathe for example. This gives carers a sense of security, knowing that their patient can call them if they are out of the room.


How would you like EyeControl to be adopted across the UK?

We would like to get to every person who can use the EyeControl to communicate. We have a good relationship with the NHS Augmentative Communication Hubs as well as leaders in the AAC World who are very supportive of the device and patients and carers are excited about it also.


EyeControl is currently designed as a communication device. Are there any plans in place to add additional features to it?
We are working on many features for future releases some of which have already been integrated such as playing music. We have the ability to connect to smart devices as well as anything that can be accessed using Bluetooth and wireless connections. Other features we are working on will be exposed in the right time.

Reece Armstrong is a reporter for Digital Health Age. Coming from the North East of England, Reece has an MA in Media & Journalism and a BA in Popular & Contemporary Music from Newcastle University. Reach him on Twitter or email via: reece.armstrong@rapidnews.com

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