Blackwood Design Awards 2015: KinesicMouse- allowing head rotation and facial expressions to control mouse and joystick

KinesicMouse is one of the entries for the Blackwood Design Awards 2015.  It is a piece of software that allows hands-free control of a computer by just using head rotations or facial expressions.

Markus Pröll, the developer of KinesicMouse from Austria, is also the CEO of Xcessity Software Solutions. He studied Software Engineering & Business at the Graz University of Technology, Austria. He is a passionate gamer and has a strong interest in the gaming industry.

The KinesicMouse requires a compatible 3D camera, and the user’s face must be visible to the camera. Then it’s simply a matter of different signals from the user’s face being detected. These signals then are used to control mouse, keyboard and joystick. Therefore activities such as surfing the internet, controlling home automation systems and playing video games could all be done independently by users who have physical disabilities.

You can see more details in the video below:

In addition, bespoken caught up with Markus to find out a little bit more about his design and the thoughts behind it…

Is there a story about KinesicMouse? Why would you want to design software that allows hands-free control of a computer?

 In my final years of my studies at the university I worked at the Laboratory for Brain-Computer Interfaces here at the University of Technology Graz, Austria. This is where I came in touch with assistive technologies for the first time. I worked on several projects that delivered far better results than technologies that are available on the market but I quickly realised that if I want to get my software into the hands of people the University is the wrong place to be. The vision that formed in my head and is still valid today was: "I want to create the most powerful and affordable assistive input devices". So that is why I started my business Xcessity Software Solutions back in 2012.

As you mentioned that KinesicMouse has already been used by people affected by Parkinson’s, Stroke, Cerebral Palsy, Spinal Cord Injury etc, how is the feedback so far?

The user feedback is amazing. You can read some of the user stories on my website (http://kinesicmouse.xcessity.at/user_stories.php). The feedback is currently what is driving me most to continue developing these solutions. I received a letter from a user with Parkinson's and he mentioned that the KinesicMouse enables him to continue working as a software engineer. Young man with Duchenne MD told me that they are again able to play their favorite video games. As I am a passionate gamer myself this is just an incredible feeling to know: someone in a tough spot in life is able to play and enjoy games because of the software I created. There is nothing more motivating than such an accomplishment.

What challenges did you encounter during the design process?

One challenge is the constant lack of resources. Currently I am working alone on my projects. I have to plan things very carefully to keep everything in balance. Everything you see today actually went through my hands, starting with the software, the tutorial videos and web presence.

It is also very difficult to get the KinesicMouse into the hands of people. Retailers are not interested in the KinesicMouse as it kind of threatens their business model. In a solution like the KinesicMouse there is much less revenue involved as in selling an eye tracking device for several thousand dollars. I am convinced that this is the right way to go and that we will see a lot more consumer technology accessible to people with disabilities in the future. It is just a lack of software to turn these devices into great assistive technology.

What’s your current goal for this product? Is there any specific part that you are still working on to improve the product?

All the development I do currently is actually based on user feedback. The users know best what they really want and need. The KinesicMouse as it is today is only the tip of the iceberg of what is possible using this state-of-the-art technology. Of course my resources are very limited and it takes time, but I have many ideas that I want to realise. Some of them are very experimental and some other I just know will work.

A few weeks ago I released another software solution that is based on consumer eyetracking technology intended for gaming. As it turns out it can be very well combined with the KinesicMouse. There are a lot of synergies in the combination of certain input technologies that are yet completely undiscovered. So bottom line is: there is lot more to come.

How would you describe KinesicMouse in one sentence? Could you name three features that make KinesicMouse special?

 The KinesicMouse is assistive input technology that gives you full control over mouse, keyboard and joystick just using head rotation and/or facial expressions.

a. detects more than 50 different signals from a face

b. very flexible and adjustable to fit everyone's abilities and needs

c. does not require any joysticks, switches or body attached tracking markers

What would winning the design award mean for you and your design?

Besides the acknowledgement of my work it would mean that the KinesicMouse gets more popularity. I am convinced that there are many people out there that can benefit from this solution. I am also aware that Blackwood supports the creation of innovative technologies and maybe there is something we can collaborate on in the future.

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