Upper St. Clair alum receives patent
In 2011, Connie Gibson, the gifted coordinator at Fort Couch Middle School, accompanied Matt Vernacchia (USCHS 2011) to the Pittsburgh Regional Science and Engineering Fair. His project was a low-cost, eye-typing interface, called IrisScribe, and industry sponsors recommended that he patent his work.
“The sponsors conveyed to him the typical cost to apply for a patent, which was prohibitively expensive, precluding him from being able to consider initiating the process,” Gibson said.
Gibson’s brother and 1984 USC High School alumnus, Douglas G. Gibson, is a partner at Covington and Burling LLP, an international law firm headquartered in Washington, D.C., that is known for its commitment to pro bono work. Covington patent attorneys also used this experience as a teaching tool for younger associates.
After Connie consulted Doug, he facilitated Vernacchia’s association with the patent law experts at Covington. Andrea Reister, a partner at Covington & Burling LLP, and Greg Discher, special counsel, represented Vernacchia in prosecuting the patent application on a pro bono basis. After a long, arduous process, the patent has finally been issued.
Connie remembered that Vernacchia wasn’t originally planning to enter the Science and Engineering Fair, so his entry was rather “last minute.”
“It’s a joy to watch and see the type of things that he does,” said Connie. “He’s truly an amazing student and a very nice person.”
Vernacchia, who will be a senior at MIT this fall, said he’s not sure what he’s going to do with his patent for IrisScribe.
“When I was in high school, I was interested in developing software interfaces. My vision has changed since then,” he said.
Now an aerospace engineering major, this summer Vernacchia is working for Space Exploration Technologies in California, doing cockpit design.
“I’m interested in finding ways to explore space and the universe around us,” Vernacchia said.
He said that while he doesn’t currently have time to work on IrisScribe, he’s not interested in selling his patent for the project. He said he would like to have an active role in developing the product, and that IrisScribe could be a startup company for him some day.
IrisScribe: An Eye-Typing Interface
In the fast-paced environment of a hospital intensive care unit, good doctor-patient communication is essential. However, medical conditions and devices often inhibit a patient’s ability to speak. Current assistive communication devices are either prohibitively expensive or cumbersome and time-consuming, creating a gap in communication during a patient’s first days in the ICU. IrisScribe is a low-cost software solution that bridges the gap by enabling patients to generate words with eye movements. In the system, a webcam acquires an image of the patient, and an image processing algorithm classifies a patient’s gaze as pointing in one of eight directions. Each direction corresponds to an option on a graphical menu presented to the patient on the computer’s display. The patient can use the menu to select a preformed phrase from a list of common phrases. Patients desiring to express more complex ideas can type custom words using the menu as an ambiguous keyboard. In either case, the patient-generated text will be displayed on screen and read aloud through the computer’s audio system. The only hardware requirements are an existing computer and a webcam. The program can process and respond to an image in 148ms. A new user can be trained in approximately 10 minutes, and after training, can type a simple phrase such as “hello world” in 40 seconds.