In the 34 developed and 156 developing countries, there are ~132 million disabled people who need a wheelchair, constituting 1.86% of the world population. Moreover, there are millions of people suffering from diseases related to motor disabilities, which cause inability to produce controlled movement in any of the limbs or even head. This paper proposes a system to aid people with motor disabilities by restoring their ability to move effectively and effortlessly without having to rely on others utilizing an eye-controlled electric wheelchair. The system input is images of the user’s eye that are processed to estimate the gaze direction and the wheelchair was moved accordingly. To accomplish such a feat, four user-specific methods were developed, implemented, and tested; all of which were based on a benchmark database created by the authors. The first three techniques were automatic, employ correlation, and were variants of template matching, whereas the last one uses convolutional neural networks (CNNs). Different metrics to quantitatively evaluate the performance of each algorithm in terms of accuracy and latency were computed and overall comparison is presented. CNN exhibited the best performance (i.e., 99.3% classification accuracy), and thus it was the model of choice for the gaze estimator, which commands the wheelchair motion. The system was evaluated carefully on eight subjects achieving 99% accuracy in changing illumination conditions outdoor and indoor. This required modifying a motorized wheelchair to adapt it to the predictions output by the gaze estimation algorithm. The wheelchair control can bypass any decision made by the gaze estimator and immediately halt its motion with the help of an array of proximity sensors, if the measured distance goes below a well-defined safety margin. This work not only empowers any immobile wheelchair user, but also provides low-cost tools for the organization assisting wheelchair users.
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