When it comes to affordable communication technology, ALS/MND patients often have few options. Even the base models and software can cost thousands of dollars – and, when not covered by insurance, purchasing one can be a devastating expense for a family.
This is an issue that touched software developer Julius Sweetland personally when his aunt was diagnosed with ALS/MND. Following her passing, he set out to develop a new option that could be made readily available to patients for just a fraction of the cost of traditional eye tracking software. This determination led to OptiKey, a brand new program that allows patients to utilize a computer keyboard using only their eyes.
Sweetland spoke to ALS Worldwide of his inspiration for the hands-free typing program, which has been developed over the last three and a half years: “It's a terrible disease and I wanted to try and make software that could help people in similar situations communicate with their loved ones without having to spend a fortune or wait for insurance companies. I found, and still find, the stories of people dying without adequate access to these tools heartbreaking.”
The software was created as a passion project in his spare time, all while balancing a full-time job and a family, including his new five-month-old son named Harry who Sweetland says sometimes sits on his lap and “mashes the keyboard while he’s working on OptiKey.”
OptiKey can be used on a Windows computer for as low as $100, which includes the purchase of an eye tracker. (It can also be used on Mac computers by using a program called Parallels.) Sweetland is currently in the process of getting a formal trial arranged with the Putney Royal Hospital for Neurodisability in London, but until then, OptiKey itself is completely free, open-source, and downloadable at OptiKey.org. The website also lists a number of eye tracker options if you do not already own one. You can test the software using a mouse as well.
ALS Worldwide is pleased to inform our readers about this wonderful contribution to the ALS/MND community and we hope you will benefit from it.
To see OptiKey in action, watch the following video, created by a team at MIT.