Eagle Eyes device provides eye-controlled freedom

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RED LION, YORK COUNTY, Pa. -- Imagine not being able to interact with friends or family, that's a reality for one York County family. Communication is no longer out of reach for one ten-year-old boy who now has it in his line of sight.

Seeing the look on ten-year-old Ethan's face says more than he could ever express in words.

Ethan's mother Holly Mansfield said "him knowing that he's doing something on his own, somebody else didn't hold up a choice and say 'which one of these do you like.' He's moving the cursor, he's choosing to start the music program. I just means the world ."

Ethan is using a computer for the first time, not with his hands, but his eyes.

Eagle Eyes trainer Ron Williams said "with target-based activities at first, so our kids can learn the basics of cause and effect, that they're actually controlling the cursor and they're making things happen."

Electrodes placed on a child's head magnify the charges produced by eye movement. The device in turn, converts the charge into a mouse click.

"It's all based on dwell time, so the cursor rests on the icon for a pre-determined amount of time, and then a click is initiated and that's what starts the computer program," Williams said.

The Eagle Eyes eye-controlled mouse gives Ethan and his mother a new way to communicate with each other.

"At some point during his birth mother's pregnancy, what we think caused it, is an infection, and the majority of his brain tissue was destroyed," Mansfield said.

Interaction with his Lincoln Intermediate teacher Kim Johnson also was limited until now.

"In the past, we've used a lot of just touching the cheek. 'Do you want to pick a different game, yes, no.' Then, I would wait for his eyes," Johnson said.

Confined to a wheelchair, Ethan can't see or hear very well. He also can't speak, but that's not going to stop him from learning. He's in control now.

"We were basically told, he would be in a vegetative state, non-responsive, wouldn't know who he were, wouldn't show any emotion, he's proved them very wrong," Mansfield said.

Ethan seems to be enjoying himself, except the activities aren't just for fun.

"Freedom, freedom to do what he wants to do, where he's never been able to do that before ," Mansfield said.

It only takes one look from Ethan's eyes to operate the Eagle Eye's mouse.

Williams helps empower kids like Ethan to be in control.

"A lot of things are done for them, and so this gives them the opportunity to really engage with the environment around them, and actually make choices all on their own," Williams said.

"Long-term goal is to start out understanding cause and effect, and then slowly move into choice selection. Choosing between two different options, and then you move into multiple choice. Then, ultimately to be able to start to communicate in their wants and their needs," Williams added.

Since Ethan can't speak, Johnson used to rely on following Ethan's eyes to the left or right to communicate with him, but she couldn't always be sure what he was looking at until now.

"With this technology, it was really good that he was going to the left, you know there was no question, and I just think it has huge potential for him and I'm super excited," Johnson said.

"We knew how smart he was, and what he was capable of, but now he can show everybody else," Mansfield said.

A team at Boston College developed Eagle Eyes.

The Opportunity Foundation of America began a partnership with the college in 2005 to manufacture, distribute, and provide training for the device to nearly 60,000 kids across the country.

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