I really missed playing my favorite board game live, but by using eye tracking devices I can play in real time online which is the next best thing.
First, I needed a way to track my eyes so that the computer recognized my movements for the mouse. There are expensive options as consumer products for people with severe disabilities through Tobii for eye tracking. There are two main options for developers around the $100 price point: the Tobii EyeX, and an alternative called the Eye Tribe Tracker by a team in Copenhagen. I went with the Eye Tribe device because I liked that they are kind of the underdog in the field, the accompanying software seemed really easy to set up, and the device also comes at a slightly lower price point. I did express shipping and received the product within three days. Downloading the software was as simple as logging into my account I made when I bought the device and clicking a couple buttons. Setting up the device was straightforward and involved using my eyes to follow blinking dots around the computer screen so the sensor could get the gist of my eyes. There is also a console for programming on my computer, but I’m not a developer.
Second, I needed a way to be able to look at my computer. Because I’m in a lying down position I would need to angle the computer towards my eyes and above my chest. The eye tracking software I purchased only works with USB 3.0, not the slower USB 2.0. I had an old netbook from 2011, but it only had USB 2.0. So, I needed a new computer. I considered buying my roommate’s laptop computer that ran Windows 8.1. For a computer, I would have had to buy a rolling mount which seemed expensive, and the idea of having a heavy computer over my head and body that might fall was a bit scary. Instead, I decided to buy a tablet. I wasn’t sure exactly which tablet I would buy, but there was one tablet stand that seemed better than the rest. For just under $200, this stand is extremely flexible and easy to maneuver, yet the base is very sturdy and the tablet is very secure. While I don’t really care about how physical things look usually, the gunmetal color and the texture of metal is very visually appealing. I bought it on Amazon, but you can also buy the stand on the company’s website. In addition to tablets, the stands can hold books. It is called the Levo Deluxe iPad Floor Stand.
Finding an acceptable tablet was a lot harder than I expected. The computer needed to run Windows 8 or Windows 7 (or 8.1 which is like an extension of 7 from a free upgrade is my understanding of it), or Mac OSX. The iPad doesn’t run OSX so I needed to get a Windows computer. The Eye Tribe Tracker isn’t yet available for Android, but it should be in the spring of 2015. Android would have been a good choice because there are quite a few tablets with USB 3.0. Android tablets also seemed less expensive. In contrast, the vast majority of tablets running Windows only have USB 2.0 despite the fact most computers have USB 3.0. I found a tablet I liked for around $350 with USB 3.0, but on further inspection the USB 3.0 port was actually in the keyboard that needed to be attached and therefore could not work on my stand: ASUS Transformer Book T100TA. Here is a good list of Windows tablets: http://techblog.tv/best-windows-8-tablet-comparison-chart-2012-2013-vs/.
After a lot of Google searches and Amazon searches, it became clear that the Microsoft store was my best bet for finding something that worked with eye tracking. The Microsoft Surface 2 does not run Windows 7 or Windows 8, but rather something called RT which focuses on applications. My decision was between the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 and 3. The second version is slightly smaller but still over 10 inches. The third version has improved features and is 12 inches with the screen about 11 1/2 inches. I was concerned that the Pro 3 might not fit on the stand because this stand is advertised for 11 inch tablets, but when I emailed the company to make sure the tablet would be compatible with their stand, they assured me it would still fit. I even tested out a Surface Pro 3 on my tablet stand before I made my purchase. The fit was a little snug, but I’m pretty sure I will appreciate the extra screen size. If I wanted to wait a month, the Surface 3 (not the Pro edition) is $600 for the 128 GB version, as opposed to what I purchased for $1000 for 128 GB. Yet, this new tablet doesn’t release until May 5, and I’m looking forward to some of the features on the Pro version. It is expensive and I took a long time deciding to purchase this tablet, but I’m hoping it works out.
To attach the sensor to the stand, I’m currently using string. I’ve seen 3-D printed pieces to help with this challenge. I could probably glue the sensor to the tablet stand, but I kind of want to shift my tablet between landscape and portrait. So it might make sense to put some Velcro on the back of the sensor as well as on the tablet stand in the two different places I would put the sensor for portrait and landscape. Eye tracking does not work if the tracker does not see my eyes!
I play chess on the Internet Chess Club. There is a subscription cost, but I believe the competition is higher quality, people quit games less often, and people try harder when they are paying money for something. I also like the different pools of players (5-minute, 15-minute, and 45-minute). Alternatively, chess.com is a good free option especially for correspondence chess. I know a lot of people like lichess for speed chess, and gameknot for correspondence.
Because I’m looking at the computer screen all day, f.lux is a free application for Mac, Windows, as well as Linux which reduces brightness and makes it easier on my eyes.
My projector from Brookstone is attached to my MacBook Pro and aimed onto the ceiling. For the past three months, along with Dragon Nuance speech to text software, that is how I used my computer. Something that I never got into but wish I’d known about is that you don’t need to use your trackpad clicking buttons to click alongside eye tracking. On the Mac for instance, you can move the mouse around using your fingers on the trackpad, and install something like DwellClick. Software like this often comes with a free trial, and you set a predetermined number of seconds that when you keep the mouse stationary it automatically clicks down. This type of clicking software can reduce repetitive strain injuries so it is extremely useful.
The specific dwelling software I’m going to use is Dwell Clicker 2. Some dwelling software only works within the program it comes in such as a keyboard for typing, whereas other software works on all Windows programs and across the entire computer. The real challenge is going to be coming up with the perfect time before clicking, and learning to keep my eyes steady for that amount of time but only on chess pieces I want to move. I use 1 second/click. The eyes are not very stable, and we are constantly moving them back and forth. In addition to this dwelling and clicking software, Eye Tribe mentions programs such as Click2Speak and GazeSpeaker for controlling the computer. I’m not close to the point of needing to rely upon programs like these for my functioning (I can talk and move, things are just painful and get weaker with overuse), but I will definitely check them out and see if they can benefit me.
In addition to chess, I’m looking forward to playing other games. Even something like Winter Bells, a silly browser-based game in which a little bunny rabbit jumps from bell to bell seems fun: I used to play it every day in high school for quite a few months, but haven’t played it in years. If I get bored of chess, I will play Fruit Ninja a bunch. Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-csCO6W83UQ. I also like Hearts, a classic card game, and I think card games are particularly good for eye tracking.
I guess I’m just looking forward to doing slightly more active hobbies rather than listening to music and watching movies, and I’m hoping eye tracking software helps. I do enjoy writing, which I use text-to-speech for, but talking is exhausting and the vibrations hurt my back after a certain point, and I think having my eyes as a resource will be very beneficial. Even if it doesn’t work out perfectly, I’m glad I’m at least trying to make my situation more enjoyable, and maybe my setup will help other people make purchasing decisions for their own gaming. I think there are a lot of applications for this chess and eye tracking combination for people with severe disabilities that want an immersive and fulfilling hobby. There’s always room for improvement when learning chess, and playing a game is a way to connect with others. The whole setup is under $1500, making it more affordable than some computers.
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