Accessibility is a problem both small and massive companies struggle with on a daily basis. How do you make your products available to every kind of person?
Microsoft is doing its best to address some of these issues with its recent announcement involving plans to include native eye tracking control in Windows 10. The support was designed to help those suffering from neuromuscular disease such as ALS have as much control in a typical Windows interface, but without using a keyboard and mouse. Examples include looking at individual letters to type out words, or gazing intently at an app to launch it.
The new feature will require specific eyewear such as the Eyetracker 4C from Tobii, a company Microsoft has worked very closely with. Other devices will be supported as well.
The idea for eye control came from Microsoft’s first hackathon back in 2014, when former NFL safety Steve Gleason reached out to Microsoft employees. Gleason has ALS and wanted to test workers to develop something that could help him in everyday normal tasks.
“I realized pretty quickly after my diagnosis that technology would have to become an extension of myself,” said Gleason. “Until there is a medical cure for ALS, technology will be that cure.”
A group came together to tackle Gleason’s challenge, and developed Ability EyeGaze, a wheelchair that could be steered by looking at at a Microsoft SUrface. That project won the grand prize in the 2014 hackathon and a new research team was put together to understand the potential of eye tracking technology.
The team returned to the hackathon in 2017 and unveiled what they had created, with a promise to integrate it into Windows 10.
“When I heard about the Ability EyeGaze team and what they were creating, it was super exciting to think about the possibilities of what could be done next,” says Jake Cohen, a product manager with the Eye Control team. “And it really made a dramatic difference to me when we started meeting with people living with ALS. We’re at a point where it has the potential to really start changing lives.”
As of now it is hard to see when the eye control update will appear, but sights are set on an early 2018 launch period.