After many years of coding in the defense industry for Lockheed Martin, Robert Chappell began to notice soreness in arms in September 1991. Shortly thereafter, his daughter, Rebecca was born and he took a few weeks off of work to spend time with his new family. He thought the rest would be all he needed for his arms to recover, but unfortunately, the pain just seemed to get worse.
Eventually, Robert was diagnosed with a repetitive strain injury from using the keyboard and mouse. He tried wrist braces, alternative keyboards, and voice dictation software. The voice dictation software worked well, but didn’t give him the mouse control he needed.
During his research, Rob came across eye gaze technology. There were several companies at the time who made eye trackers – all of them very costly. One company even made an eye tracker for people with disabilities, but was a very limited product that only ran on DOS. He decided that what was needed was an eye tracker which would completely replace the mouse and run under the Windows operating system.
Then it occurred to Rob – why not build an eye tracker where all the processing was done on a general purpose PC? He used an inexpensive video camera tied to a video capture card and all the software ran on Windows. This was 1995 and computers were just getting fast enough to do this. The advent of Windows 95 also opened a door to 32-bit programming, making the software development even easier.
Over the next couple of years, EyeTech Digital Systems was born with the help of Melinda Trego, Rob’s sister, who organized the company and handled the day-to-day business activities. The company was founded with a mission to produce leading edge eye gaze technology to help people with disabilities. The creation of the first true Windows “eye mouse” opened up possibilities for EyeTech to produce a number of “firsts”:
- First eye tracker to run on Windows
- First eye tracker to completely replace the mouse providing functions for movement, clicking, and dragging
- First eye tracker to do all the image processing on a general purpose PC
- First USB-powered stand alone eye tracker available on the market