The Camera Mouse program, which can be downloaded for free from CameraMouse.org, allows individuals to control their computer simply by moving their head as a webcam watches.
Professors James Gips and Margrit Betke assert it can help “people with Cerebral Palsy, Spinal Muscular Atrophy, ALS, Multiple Sclerosis, Traumatic Brain Injury, [and] various neurological disorders.”
I found the program so interesting that I decided to download it myself to see how well it works. Installing it took but a minute or two and used only 12.7 MB of hard drive. Camera Mouse has a number of settings to help users out, such as deciding how sensitive the cursor should be to head movement, how long a user has to dwell on a point to click on it, and more.
How does the Camera Mouse Work?
The camera follows a point on the user’s face, and moves the cursor when the user moves their head. “Dwell time” allows the user to hold the cursor at a certain point for a second or two to click. Although double-clicking is possible, one setting’s option allows users to open Windows icons with just one click.
For typing, users can use an on-screen keyboard such as the Midas Touch Keyboard, which is also provided for free by Boston College. The time involved for clicking does not make Camera Mouse optimal for fast-paced games, but playing traditional board games like checkers or chess online is entirely possible.
However, I found the accompanying Midas Touch keyboard to be unusable since it only allows for capital letters and spaces—no lower caps, numbers, punctuation, or other symbols. Try entering a URL, making a safe password, typing up an article, putting in an email address, or doing online banking with nothing but capital letters. Using copy and paste buttons to put the text in other programs was tedious. It was also frustrating to go to “File” then “New Message” every time I wanted to type something different.
The on-screen keyboard built into Windows, though, allowed me to do anything that a real keyboard can do. Its size can be adjusted as needed, but keep in mind it takes up screen space. Conveniently, it can be loaded automatically when a user logs into Windows. Alternatively, users have the option of purchasing an on-screen keyboard like WiVik that’s more nuanced to help those in need of assistance, but be ready to lay down $350 for it.
So, to actually start using Camera Mouse, I selected a point on my face for it to track. As suggested, I used the bridge under my nose. I suppose a quadriplegic individual would need a caretaker to get them to this point. Yet, in the future, the program can start automatically when users log into Windows. Users can also make the helpful 5-4-3-2-1 setting begin on startup, where the program gives users five seconds to position their head so that it’s tracking the middle point on their webcam screen. After selecting the tracking point, the fun began for me.
I tested it out by doing common Internet activities. First, I watched a video on YouTube. Typing with the Windows on-screen keyboard was tricky at first, but as I went through this experiment, I gave the program a dwell time of two seconds instead of the default one and found it easier on my neck if I put the keyboard a little above the screen’s bottom-left corner.
At first, when I loaded a video, I had to keep my head tilted to the white space beside it so the program wouldn’t click anything as I watched it out of the side of my eyes. It took me a while to realize that I should turn off clicking altogether. It’s best to keep the Camera Mouse program window tucked at the bottom of the screen too so it won’t get in the way either. While that let me watch the video in peace, I realized a little something when it was time to move on. I couldn’t re-enable clicking with Camera Mouse alone because I couldn’t click the little checkbox next to “Clicking.” So, I had to cheat and do that with a normal mouse.
It was only after my experiment that I realized users can get around this by setting the Windows on-screen keyboard to dwell time rather than click. This lets users use the keyboard regardless of whether or not they have Camera Mouse’s click turned on. Press “ALT” then “F” to reset Camera Mouse to saved default settings, which presumably have click turned on.
Browsing a Website and Using Facebook
After turning the click back on, I decided to put in the web address Nvate.com so I could read the blog there. At first, it was a huge pain because I tried clicking the scroll arrows and bar like I would with a standard mouse. It took me a while to realize that the best way to go about scrolling was to use the arrow keys or the “Page Up” and “Page Down” keys on the on-screen keyboard.
While reading, I still had to be careful how I tilted my head so that I didn’t click on any pictures or links by accident. This is another situation where it would be handy to turn off Camera Mouse clicking temporarily and then use the on-screen keyboard to reset settings. Just make sure the keyboard isn’t minimized.
Then came my longest task: posting on Facebook about how I was using Camera Mouse. Putting my password in turned out to be a huge pain because if I made a mistake, I usually wasn’t sure how far to backspace thanks to seeing nothing but big, bold dots. Maybe someone using this program could use a browser extension such as “Password Peek” for Chrome or “Unhide Passwords” for Firefox to help them out.
Once logged in, I was able to move along slowly but surely as I posted a link to the program’s website and my impression of it. While I didn’t have any huge problems doing this, I must confess that it took me 23 minutes total to put in Facebook’s URL, log in with my email and password, and type in a 44-word post.
Camera Mouse Settings
After proudly taking a screenshot of my successful post, I looked through the settings once more to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. I found that I could save my current settings and make them the default, which would be helpful for regular users. Also, I couldn’t type a darned thing if I set the dwell time to 0.1 seconds, but I wonder if people with lots of head-tracking training could pull it off. If so, they could type 20 seconds faster than I could. Finally, I noticed that caretakers can prevent people from clicking certain areas of the screen, which might be helpful for parents who want their children to stay in one program.
Once I toyed with these settings, I decided to stop. After using the program for an hour, my neck was hurting. Keep in mind, though, that someone who can only move their neck would probably not experience this pain as quickly as I did, and if they used the program every day for hours as compared to my 60-minute trial, they would have far more success with it. It’s comparable to how people with no arms learn to use forks and even write with their legs and toes, even if most people cannot do that. Gips stated in an email that there is no data available on how quickly people use head-tracking, but I think experience would definitely help.
To use Camera Mouse to its fullest, users need to make sure their default settings have clicking enabled, that the on-screen keyboard relies on dwell time rather than clicking, and that they use a free program called ClickAid. Gips stated that this optional program allows for easy use of various mouse clicks, including double-clicking, dragging windows, and highlighting text. Point-N-Click is similar, but it offers more features while taking up more space on the computer screen. With so many program windows, a large screen is a must.
Although paid programs may contain more features, Camera Mouse is certainly a helpful tool for disabled individuals. They could use it to test whether or not head-tracking is a viable option for them. Then, if they feel the need, they could invest in a different program.
Visit CameraMouse.org/Downloads.html to experiment with Camera Mouse. Be sure to check out the optional, free downloads for helpful add-ons and fun games.
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