Background: People with severe motor impairments often require an alternative access pathway, such as a binary switch, to communicate and to interact with their environment. A wide range of access pathways have been developed from simple mechanical switches to sophisticated physiological ones. In this manuscript we report the inaugural investigation of infrared thermography as a non-invasive and non-contact access pathway by which individuals with disabilities can interact and perhaps eventually communicate.
Methods: Our method exploits the local temperature changes associated with mouth opening/closing to enable a highly sensitive and specific binary switch. Ten participants (two with severe disabilities) provided examples of mouth opening and closing. Thermographic videos of each participant were recorded with an infrared thermal camera and processed using a computerized algorithm. The algorithm detected a mouth open-close pattern using a combination of adaptive thermal intensity filtering, motion tracking and morphological analysis.
Results: High detection sensitivity and low error rate were achieved for the majority of the participants (mean sensitivity of all participants: 88.5% ± 11.3; mean specificity of all participants: 99.4% ± 0.7). The algorithm performance was robust against participant motion and changes in the background scene.
Conclusion: Our findings suggest that further research on the infrared thermographic access pathway is warranted. Flexible camera location, convenience of use and robustness to ambient lighting levels, changes in background scene and extraneous body movements make this a potential new access modality that can be used night or day in unconstrained environments.
Memarian, Negar; Venetsanopoulos, Anastasios N.; and Chau, Tom, "Infrared thermography as an access pathway for individuals with severe motor impairments" (2009). Electrical and Computer Engineering Publications and Research. Paper 6.