This past week when Microsoft released Build 16257 to Windows Insiders who are testing Fall Creators Update builds in the Fast Ring, they added a significant feature under the Ease of Access are of the operating system that enables users to control and interact with the operating system just using their eyes.
The technology behind this feature was recently highlighted by Microsoft on their Microsoft Accessibility blog which explains how a former NFL football player Steve Gleason contacted them prior to the companies first hackathon in 2014.
Steve’s ask to this diverse array of thinkers, doers and dreamers was to develop technology that could address some of the constraints he faces living with ALS, a disease which causes the death of neurons that control muscle movement, resulting in difficulty moving, speaking, swallowing, and eventually, breathing. For most people with ALS, the eyes are the only muscle not impacted by the disease. Steve wanted to be able to play with his son, talk more easily with his wife and to move his wheelchair by himself: goals that for someone with ALS seemed like an impossible dream.
As a result of that hackathon they developed the Eye Gaze Wheelchair that allowed Gleason to move his wheelchair with his eyes.
That work was the beginning of what Microsoft announced this week as Eye Tracking support in Windows 10 with the Fall Creators Update which will be available in the September timeframe.
Eye Tracking is now in beta testing with Windows Insiders on Build 16257 or higher but to enable it you must have compatible hardware. Initially the only device that will work is the Tobii 4C Eye Tracker which you can order from Amazon for $149.
We have just received on of these trackers today to try out the eye tracking features of Windows 10 as they develop. I have already gone through the setup and calibration process and tried out the feature. Not surprisingly, it is challenging to get accustomed to it however, I know practice will make the use more efficient.
Seeing technology like this, which I do not need but know many do, really amazes me at what can be accomplished to address these important needs for others. I can only imagine the benefits something like this provides to make the best of a challenging situation.
As I describe this technology and try it out further over these next days and weeks, I am very aware of my need to avoid using words like cool to describe it because it is such a life altering technology for those who truly need it.
The last thing I want to do is seem flippant about it in any manner so I will be taking a very measured approach to this project.
However, I will add that the Tobii 4C can also be used to interact with several gaming titles such as Assassin's Creed and Elite Dangerous so the hardware itself does have a role in gaming entertainment in addition to the Eye Tracking in Ease of Access on Windows 10. That is what Tobii was initially developed for in fact.
You can check out the unboxing images in the gallery and get a sense for what is in the box and how the Tobii 4C attaches to your computer for use. Next week I will share setup images from the PC side and will also plan to do an over the shoulder video of using the technology.
Note: The Tobii 4C Eye has magnetic attach points on the back of the device. The package comes with two metal strips that can be attached to your laptop monitor to hold the device at the right angle for tracking your gaze and head movements.
I attached one of the strips to the HP Spectre x360 (2015) without any issue and it still allows the lid to shut - without the Tobii 4C still attached of course. You will see these strips and the attached configuration in the gallery images.