Microsoft is trialling a new accessibility option in Windows 10 by introducing its Eye Tracking feature to Windows Insiders. The feature will enable users to use an on-screen keyboard to type with their eyes, or even draw the shapes of letters with their eye movements.
Early users will need to be on the latest Windows Insider Preview build, and have a Tobii Eye Tracker 4C (which cost about £140). The appeal will therefore be limited for the time being.
In addition, it currently works only on a US-English keyboard, but will be expanded to encompass a number of other eye-trackers, including Tobii Dynavox PCEye Mini, PCEyePlus, EyeMobile Plus, and I-series.
It will also become part of Windows Holographic including the Acer Mixed Reality headset released yesterday.
The new feature will be of most benefit to those with neurological paralysis. It stems back to a challenge set by ex-NFL player Steve Gleason who wanted Microsoft to come up with something to help him, and people like him, with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).
If that has a familiar ring, it’s because last Thursday, we lost movie actor and playwright Sam Shepard to it. It’s also known by the term “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” after another sportsman, this time a baseball star, who was the first to be diagnosed with it.
The feature, Ability Eye Glaze, was cooked up in a hackathon and has uses way beyond just typing. It can even allow Shepard to control his wheelchair just by looking at his tablet. Yes, alright, looking at his SURFACE tablet.
Jake Cohen, Program Manager on the Windows Interaction Platform team, helped make Eye Glaze part of Windows 10: “When I heard about the Ability Eye Gaze team and what they were creating, it was super exciting to think about the possibilities of what could be done next,” said Cohen.
“And it really made a dramatic difference to me when we started meeting with people living with ALS. I began to understand all the challenges they live with every single day. We’ve done a lot of great work across our teams, and we have a lot more to do, but we’re at a point where it has the potential to really start changing lives.”
He uses the term “super exciting” without irony. He shall be first against the wall when our glorious revolution comes. Still, cool project.
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