Entries in Handwriting (2)


New Technology Lets People Write With Their Eyes

JupiterImages/Comstock(NEW YORK) -- Patients without the ability to use their limbs may have a new way to communicate, thanks to researchers in France. This offers hope to sufferers of strokes, spinal injuries, or degenerative diseases such as ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, who may be left without the ability to type, pick up a pen, or even speak.

The researchers developed a system that allows users to write in cursive on a video monitor using only their eyes. Dr. Jean Lorenceau of the Universite Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris has developed a method for translating eye movements into writing on a screen, and by doing so has simultaneously advanced possibilities for patients and solved a tricky puzzle posed by biology. The results are in today's issue of the journal Current Biology.

Lorenceau's device overcomes a difficult physiological problem called saccadic eye movements. If you try to move your gaze smoothly across a stationary object, you will will instead find your eyes "saccading," or jumping from one point to another. So-called smooth-pursuit eye movements are reserved by our bodies for following moving objects. This is normal, but presents problems for researchers trying to devise methods of eye writing, just as a constantly jerking hand would severely hamper someone trying to write with a pen.

Dr. Lorenceau's technique bamboozles the body's own circuitry by using a flickering screen. It tricks the brain into thinking the eyes are following a moving object. The device then uses known eye motion-detection technology to translate these movements into smooth cursive writing, fully controlled by the subject.

Other devices for communicating solely with the eyes do exist. They're less ambitious -- they let a user select choices from a menu in sequence rather than write -- but Lorenceau says they work well. However, he points out that users' ability to create something themselves is unique to his device.

"Maybe more important is the fact that cursive eye writing provides personal and creative means of expression," Lorenceau said. Furthermore, it allows people to achieve shades of meaning not available on a menu. "What if the figure you wish to draw is not in this repertoire," he said, "[such as] the drawing of a heart to indicate you love something?"

Lorenceau has just been selected by the French National Research Agency to partner with a physician caring for ALS patients in developing his device further, as well as a company to continue to develop the device and a programmer to develop software for cursive eye writing recognition.

But Lorenceau sees uses for his device beyond helping those unable to write on their own. "A training program could be helpful for children with oculomotor deficits or [even] athletes [or] artists and is therefore not necessarily exclusively to be used by patients unable to move their limbs," he said. "Although speculative, these ideas will be tested in the near future."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Lefty Legacy: Demystifying the Southpaw

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- What do Lady Gaga, Queen Victoria, Michelangelo and President Obama all have in common? Whether signing a bill into law or painting a masterpiece, they all do it southpaw style.

Throughout the ages, lefties have made up a consistent 10 percent of the population, but the reasons behind this minority dexterity remain shrouded in mystery.  In his new book The Puzzle of Left-handedness, author Rik Smits attempts to shed a little light on this mystery, cataloging the lore, science, and historical "whiff of negativity" surrounding left-handedness.

Historically, left-handedness has been associated with all manner of  malady, from mental retardation, to cancer, criminality and working for the devil -- in fact, the word for "left" in Latin is "sinestra," the root word for "sinister." In more recent times, however, some psychologists have postulated that being left-handed is a sign of a strong right brain, and the language skills and creativity that are associated with this hemisphere. This is the argument made by University College London psychologist Chris McManus in his book Right-Hand, Left-Hand.  He also says that throughout history, lefties have made up a larger proportion of high achievers than would be expected given their minority status.

A look at the long list of celebrities, politicians, and historical figures that are southpaw seems to support McManus’  theory. After all, five out of the past seven U.S. presidents were lefties (George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter were not).  Many cultural icons of our day are lefties as well: Oprah, Gaga and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, to name a few.

But is there anything inherently special about lefties?

We know that they may be genetically different because a child is twice as likely to be left-handed if one of his parents is and four times as likely if both parents are lefties.  Other theories explaining left-handedness mention disturbances in hormones or slight brain damage while a child is still in the womb.  Smits offers yet another theory in his book: Lefties derive from identical twins.  Because identical twins can sometimes have mirror traits, he postulates that lefties arise when an embryo splits in the womb, leaving one twin righty and the other lefty.

The fact that twins are twice as likely to be lefty as non-twins offers some support to Smits' theory, but his ideas have never been scientifically tested.

For all their mythology, lefties are probably not some form of super-talented genetic mutant, Smits concludes: "Most left-handers are just left-handed, nothing more," he writes.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio