Page last updated at 10:48 GMT, Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Iris device helps disabled pupils

Screen with command buttons
Users can select a command from a computer screen using eye movement

Profoundly disabled students have been testing technology used by fighter pilots to increase their freedom.

The National Star College near Cheltenham is adapting iris recognition software which uses eye movements to operate a control panel.

It allows severely disabled students to execute a variety of jobs including opening doors, turning on televisions, drawing curtains and sending emails.

Similar systems are used by fighter pilots to fire weapons accurately.

Infra-red sensors follow a user's eyes as they scan a computer screen with command "buttons".

To select a command, the user stares at the relevant button.

College principal Helen Sexton said: "We want our young students to have the best life they can and we don't see why barriers, in terms of movement or understanding, should prevent that."

The pioneering youngsters have been praised by Lucy Hawking, vice president of the college and daughter of leading physicist Professor Stephen Hawking who has motor neurone disease.

She said: "[I admire] the sheer exuberance they bring to the challenges that their lives present and they way this technology allows them to make jokes, express requests, just come out with ordinary comments that you and I take for granted," she said.

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