Follow your nose
Hands-free mouse activated with a blink of the eyes
The Nouse incorporates perceptual user interfaces (PUI) and a Web cam to control a computer's cursor.
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OTTAWA, Canada (CNN) -- Using a computer will soon be a lot easier for disabled people, thanks to a hands-free device created by Canadian researchers.
The "Nouse," short for "nose as mouse," is the brainchild of Dmitry Gorodnichy, research officer at the National Research Council's Institute for Information Technology.
It uses movements of the tip of the user's nose to direct the cursor, which is normally controlled by a conventional mouse.
At the beginning of a computer session, an ordinary Web cam zooms in on the tip of the nose and takes a snapshot of about 25 pixels.
It then mirrors the nose's movements on screen to move the cursor, just as a hand would normally move a mouse.
Gorodnichy, originally from Ukraine, told CNN the Nouse is programmed to let users take actions by blinking in quick succession.
"For example, the right mouse click would require the user to blink twice and the left mouse click would require the user to blink three times," he says.
A small image appears in the corner of the monitor so the user knows the Nouse is activated.
"Otherwise, there's no tangible feeling that gives you an indication you are in control and that it's switched on."
Although he did not have the physically disabled in mind when he designed the Nouse, Gorodnichy says rehabilitation and medical departments have shown interest in his design.
"I have had a lot of experience in developing computer vision, and I wanted to apply it to faces," he says.
Perceptual user interfaces (PUI), whereby users' motions control computer software, is not a new concept, Gorodnichy says.
But specifically targeting the movement of the nose, instead of the entire head, makes the process more accurate, he says.
Gorodnichy built the first prototype in 2001 and hopes the Nouse will be commercially available within a year.
Nicole Penn-Symons, chief executive of British charity Disabled Living Foundation (DLF), told CNN that computer equipment designed to help the disabled was a growing area.
DLF liaises with manufacturers and runs a help line for the elderly and people with disabilities, advising about equipment that will make their lives easier.
"Devices such as the Nouse are fantastic because they really empower disabled people," Penn-Symons says.
"Computers are key to everybody's lives, and being able to use this type of technology makes them much more accessible."