ECTkeyboard (EyeComTec Keyboard) is a program that allows individuals with reduced motor skills to type text letter by letter. The program works with eye tracking applications (for example, ECTtracker and similar programs), allowing to select characters in a text matrix through eye movements and blinking. It also supports direct input of characters from the virtual keyboard through contracting a muscle or a group of muscles, drawing the air or other means available to people with limited motor skills.
The main window of the program is a text matrix with a set of symbols or pictograms, the appearance and the order of which can be customized by the user. ECTkeyboard allows to enter text using different methods : Step by step- mode , in which the program highlights one character after another , and the user selects the desired character through blinking or other accessible action; Coordinate mode ( when the selection is made horizontally and vertically) where the user first indicates the row or the column before selecting the desired character in them; Separating regime, where the entire text matrix gets divided in two, after being selected the part containing the desired letter splits in its turn, and so –on until a single character is selected ; Virtual keyboard mode allows to work with a mouse or another manipulator device. Operating modes are suitable for different groups of users with limited motor skills; all typed text is registered to a file.
ECTkeyboard has a simple interface, but at the same time a plurality of customizable settings. Almost any parameter can be modified - the number of letters in a row or column, matrix colors, colors and font style of a selected cell or to the entry delay, allowing to choose the most comfortable work pace, avoid fatigue and make working with ECTkeyboard as comfortable as possible. All settings can be imported to files allowing to quickly switch them.
The main window of the program ECTkeyboard represents a matrix with a loadable symbol table; the user can work with it in different modes and select the most convenient for him.
A countdown strip is situated under the text matrix; selecting the desired character (either row or column, depending on the mode) activates the timer; to confirm the selection the user should keep the button pressed for a while or let it go to highlight the next character.
Different operating modes in conjunction with a customizable response time allow a paralyzed person to use precisely the selection mode that suits him the best.
Modes are divided into:
Step by step mode (mode 2) is most simple and suitable for learning to work with the program mode, consequently it is also the slowest one. When this mode is selected, the highlighting of the characters moves line by line from left to right until the desired letter is selected. The second step by step mode (mode 2B) differs only in that that the highlighting moves by columns - from top to bottom in each column and left to right when changing the column. The step by step mode is more suitable for those who are just beginning to master ECTkeyboard, or prefer working slowly.
Coordinate mode (mode 1) allows a quick selection of the letters, but working with it requires a certain skill, since the user has to remember the approximate location of the symbols in the table to quickly locate desired ones. In this mode, the program highlights the lines one by one from top to bottom, and once the desired line is selected, the characters in it. The second version of the coordinate mode (mode 1B) operates the same way but with the columns, highlighting them from left to right, and once selected the characters they contain.
Separation mode (mode 3) is different from previous ones. This mode splits the screen in two- highlighting in turn the left and the right sides. When the user makes a selection, the selected matrix area is divided into two parts - upper and lower, and so on until the desired letter is chosen. Thereafter the entire matrix is afresh divided vertically in two, and a new selection can be started.
Cursor holding coordinate mode (mode 4). This mode is designed to be uses in conjunction with various eye tracking systems that respond to human gaze direction or head movements. In this mode, the timer is continuously activated, and the user must in the allotted time choose the desired letter in the text matrix through a gaze or a head movement. After that, the countdown starts over again, allowing him to choose the next character. Fine adjustment of the timer allows selecting the letters by keeping the eyes closed for a defined time, at the same the blinking will not cause false alarms or interfere with the work.
Virtual keyboard mode (mode 0) allows selecting the letters in the matrix by means of movements and mouse clicks; which allows the user to work rather fast. Here the timer does not activate each time to confirm each selection of a character.
The presence of several modes of working with a text matrix makes ECTkeyboard a quite universal program suitable for both fully paralyzed patients and patients with limited or insufficient physical activity. Various modes are suitable for different occasions and diseases, allowing the user to choose precisely the right type of input to suit each particular patient. The possibility to fine-tune all the delays, the order of characters in the matrix, the font size and color as well as the background color, can reduce fatigue and make working with ECTkeyboard comfortable and the input selection rate appropriate.
With the development of computer technology hospital staff’s monotonous work with paralyzed patients is increasingly being replaced by specially developed programs. These programs perform tasks completely identical to those of an assistant - alternately showing the patient on the computer screen alphabet letters from which by blinking or other eye movements he selects the right one , thus composing words and sentences. Such programs are designed to work with different types of cameras and are often part of full-fledged software hardware systems, consisting of eye tracking devices and applications processing the captured image of the patient's eye and the text or graphic matrix.
Through calculating the direction of the paralyzed patient’s gaze, the program determines the area of the screen he looks at, and selects the desired schematic image - letter or icon and selects it when he closes his eyes for a certain time. Thus, through their eye movements the users can type texts, manage a set of simple applications or play simple games. More sophisticated systems allow using custom applications to manage devices connected to the system - for example, turning the air conditioning on or off, selecting TV channels and even running PC applications. Needless to say, that these advanced systems have many different settings and are very expensive, which makes them inaccessible to the majority of paralyzed.
The usability of such softwares often leaves a lot to be desired, in many applications there is no option allowing to choose different fonts, size and thickness of lettering, while all these features are very important especially for those with deteriorated vision. Softwares integrated in complex professional eye trackers are rarely updated.
There are other situations where using complex programs is difficult, if not impossible - for example - heavy lesions where the patient retains the mobility of only one eye, the pupil may be only vertically mobile and he might be unable to blink. In this way, softwares have some limitations making eye tracking systems inaccessible to all patients. There are separate programs for working with video, as well as customizable text matrixes, allowing changing the order and the shape of the symbols – however such software products are often developed by enthusiasts and are not compatible with most existing eye tracking systems. In addition, the developed programs often do not support characters for different languages.
In the current situation, where the software of an eye tracking system does not provide all the necessary functionality and the hardware stays expensive, many paralyzed people have to go without the possibility of communication or use the services of assistants. At the same time, the current level of computer technology allows some low-cost solutions - for example, even average laptops equipped with webcams can with the necessary set of programs fully replace costly eye trackers.
At the same time such programs must possess a number of features that allow the patients with different lesions using them:
Taking into account all these features leads to an important conclusion. The ideal software for paralyzed patients to work with text matrixes must be a separate program. Since the existing ready-made solutions integrate applications to work with the camera and text matrix, which greatly reduces their compatibility with other programs. Eye tracking hardware systems have even less compatibility, often not allowing at all using third-party software. At the same time, the program that is flexible and functional with all the necessary set of options that are associated with a specific type of equipment will have a much wider range of applications and convenience for patients.
This software is not reviewed yet.
ECTmouse is an application which emulates cursor movement and mouse button clicks by using any keyboard. This program is part of the assistive technologies complex and works effectively with a personal computer for those with limited motor functions.
ECTlistener allows the user suffering from paralysis or extremely reduced mobility to work with virtual keyboards and type text letter-by-letter via making any noise or sound possible (sniffing, inhaling/exhaling, blowing on microphone etc.).
ECTmorse is a program designed to help sufferers of paralysis by allowing them to type using Morse code. The program may be used on nearly any PC or laptop because of its low system requirements, and is fully featured and customizable.
ECTtracker is an eye-tracking AAC program, allowing the real-time analysis of the user's eye (open or closed). ECTtracker implements low cost computer mediated communication for people suffering from various forms of paralysis.
ECTcamera by EyeComTec is a freeware portable program to manage a webcam or an external camera. It allows to scale and position video, make screenshots with flexible intervals, export and import settings. Free for private non-commercial use.