In 2003, Southern California-based graffiti artist, Tony Quan (A.K.A.- TEMPT ONE) was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) , leaving him unable to speak and virtually every muscle in his body paralyzed except for his eyes. Due to the severity of his condition, Quan now needs a respirator to breathe. His mind, still as sharp as ever, is now trapped by a body that has succumb to the disease.
That's when Zach Lieberman of the Graffiti Research Lab and developers from Free Art and Technology, OpenFrameworks and the Ebeling Group were inspired to create low-cost, open-source hardware and software for eye-tracking named, the EyeWriter. It's a gadget that costs about as much as an iPod shuffle and lets the paralyzed graffiti artist continue making art using only his eyes.
Eye-tracking technology, in which computers and small cameras harness eye movements for writing, highlighting Web site text and other tasks, has led to digital tools for users with disabilities. However, as Lieberman mentioned in an NPR interview, those devices usually have hefty price tags.
"Commercial eye-trackers, to get a device is $10,000-$15,000," he says. The EyeWriter is estimated to cost about $50. He and his hacker colleagues have a do-it-yourself kit for building an EyeWriter that starts with a pair of sunglasses. For Lieberman’s prototype, he bought a pair from a vendor at Venice Beach.
"Then we assembled a kind of wire frame that holds a Web cam, a small camera that we've mounted close to the eye," he explains. "We've written software that tracks the eye, and then we calibrate with [Quan's] eye movements and the computer screen."
Quan can draw lines and color within them, though graffiti-writing with the EyeWriter is nowhere near as fast as shaking up a can of spray paint and drawing by hand.
"But he can plot points. And from plotting points, create letters. And from creating letters, create words. And then color the words, shade the words, extrude them in 3-D, add different features," Lieberman says.
You can check out TEMPT's art here: