There seems to be more innovation in assistive technology than ever before. There’s also more money in it as a result; research shows that the market for such products aimed at the disabled will shoot up from the $43.1 billion they was projected to generate in 2015 to $58.3 billion in the year 2020. Perceptive Devices has been a player in that market since 2011, and just launched the newest version of its flagship product, Smyle Mouse.
Some assistive technology solutions focus on specialized hardware as a means to provide greater accessibility for the disabled. Smyle Mouse, however, requires no custom paraphernalia; all users need to own is a simple webcam. Smyle Mouse’s software tracks facial gestures through a webcam feed and translates them into clicks, drags, and scrolls. A quick smile is a click, and a sustained smile combined with different head movements can be used to scroll, drag, etc. The simplicity makes the software especially helpful to those affected by spinal cord injuries, ALS, Multiple Sclerosis, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Perceptive Devices Founder & CEO Uday Parshionakar tells Snapmunk that the inspiration for the product came from an interesting source: his son’s science fair project. “He came up with the idea of being able to control your computer and play games without using hands, but using head movements instead,” Parshionakar describes. “I was his project mentor, and when I realized the potential of the concept I decided to evolve it to ‘industrial grade.'”
That transformation into a more refined commercial product involved eliminating false positives inherent to head and eye tracking, as well as widening the range of commands and selections users could execute. Version 1.2 of the software—which launched last week—brings greater customization as well as shortcuts to make users more productive.
Although Smyle Mouse started off with the singular goal of improving computer accessibility for the disabled, a wider variety of use cases have emerged. One of those is in video gaming. “Simple facial expressions such as smiling, frowning, raising eyebrows, opening of the mouth, etc. can be used to change or shoot weapons, invoke different commands, change game modes, navigation, add surprise elements and much more,” Parshionikar says. Frowning while unloading an assault rifle on a virtual version of a friend may not come easily, but it will certainly add a new dimension to existing game mechanics.
Another application of the gesture-based assistive technology is in augmented/virtual/mixed reality devices. Parshionikar gives the example of how a surgeon could consume and control patient information on his/her smart glasses or even other computers while performing a surgery using Smyle Mouse. There are also mass consumer use cases. “A commuter on a train could be using their AR glasses in a completely hands-free and voice-free fashion to read news, emails, use social media, etc,” he explains.
Apart from exploring the various applications of the software, Perceptive Devices is also working on patents and partnerships. They have already received one US patent; one that Parshionikar says is highly cited by other players in the space. “Now that we have our first commercial product out and have received some great feedback,” Parshionikar proudly explains, “we are reaching out to some established manufacturers to integrate our technology into their products.” Unfortunately, the names of those manufacturers could not be revealed due to NDAs.
So far, Smyle Mouse is a bootstrapped venture, but the founder explains that they’re “looking to outside investments, preferably from potential business partners or investors with experience in the space.” The software—made for Windows 7, 8, and 10—is available on a 14-day free trial through their website. It’s priced at $499 per device, but is available to individuals for personal use at $249.
Prateek Jose is a writer and engineering undergrad from India with an unhealthy obsession for obscure historical trivia. Conversations about absurdist fiction and the technological singularity make his day. He’s already uploading parts of his brain to servers by writing for websites such as this one.