Eye-tracking tech focuses on the challenge of focus

Umoove’s new uHealth app could usher in an era in which brain conditions are diagnosed through ‘the windows to the soul’

Screenshot of one of uHealth's attention focusing activities (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Screenshot of one of uHealth's attention focusing activities (Photo credit: Courtesy)

The eyes may or not be a window to the soul, but they are most definitely a window to the brain, according to Yitzi Kempinski, CEO of Jerusalem-based start-up uMoove. With the new free uHealth app, which utilizes Umoove’s unique eye-tracking technology, healthcare workers and professionals can help individuals who need to practice their focus and attention skills to keep their mind on what they are doing.

Using eye tracking game-like exercises, uHealth challenges the user’s ability to be attentive, continuously focus, follow commands and avoid distractions. The app gradually builds up these skills, and Kempinski says he’s got numbers to prove the system works.

Actually, they’re not necessarily his own numbers, “although we have been doing a lot of in-house testing of the app with individuals who suffer from attention-deficit disorder (ADD/ADHD) and the like,” said Kempinski. “But using eye tracking to diagnose even serious diseases and conditions, like stroke and concussions, is nothing new. Doctors have been doing it for years – everyone, for example, has had a doctor put a pencil in front of his face and been asked to follow its movement. But this is the first interactive tool that utilizes eye-tracking technology for therapy, and eventually it will be used for diagnosis as well.”

Umoove is the only company in the world with a commercialized eye-tracking technology for smartphones. Using patented algorithms, Umoove’s Flying Experience game, for example, uses an iPhone’s camera and reads head movements to execute commands in a game, with players navigating the screen by moving their heads.

“That app, which came out about a year ago, generated a lot of attention,” said Kempinski, and Umoove’s technology is now licensed to dozens of hardware and software makers, who have integrated it in games, advertising systems, wearable tech, augmented reality apps and devices, healthcare apps, and more.

Seeing that success, Umoove realized it was sitting on a very important technology. “After examining the market we realized that health care would be a major benefactor of this technology, and that it could be a real game changer,” said Kempinski. “The uHealth app is the first of what we expect to be many applications of our technology to healthcare.”

Yitzi Kempinski (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Yitzi Kempinski (Photo credit: Courtesy)

The uHealth app, Kempinski is careful to point out, is not meant for diagnosis, which would require FDA approval. But as a brain exercise that is used to complement other forms of medical treatment, it doesn’t require government supervision.

“In the game, there are numerous activities that require the user to concentrate on what they are seeing and make the appropriate choice, for which they are rewarded with points. The app uses the device’s camera to keep track of the user’s eye movements, so we get a complete picture of how well they are paying attention. The activities were designed by our team of medical professionals, and designed to maximize the effect of focus activities on users.”

The app is meant to be used by anyone who struggles with focus and attention difficulties – about half the people in the world, said Kempinski.

“There is strong evidence to support these exercises as a therapeutic intervention,” said Dr. Herman Weiss, Umoove’s VP Healthcare. “Until now the only limitation was the heavy cost requirement of a high level therapist and technology to administer the tests.”

This mobile solution will greatly enhance availability and access to anybody who feels that they have a challenge with their focus and attention.

Weiss and Kempinski based their contentions on a large body of research that shows how training users to focus their eyes greatly enhances their ability to pay attention.

“Scientists and doctors have been doing research on this for years, and their recommendations are clear,” said Kempinski. “What we have done is produce a method for following these recommendations that can be done by anyone, at any time, without the need for a professional to hold a pencil in front of their eyes.”

uHealth is fine as a training tool, but the app’s real strength will be in diagnosis. “The technology is ready and primed for that,” said Kempinski. “In order to promote it as a diagnosis tool, we would have to run clinical tests in order to get FDA approval.”

With that approval, though, Umoove’s technology could be used to determine if an individual has a concussion, in real time – for example, a football player could use eye-tracking to determine if he got a concussion after a particularly brutal play – or to diagnose a patient for the likelihood of a stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and a host of other maladies, all of which can be diagnosed via eye tracking.

“The eyes are truly a window to the brain,” said Kempinski. “We intend uHealth to include in the future various apps that utilize Umoove eye tracking to diagnose, track and improve brain activity.”

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