Just yesterday Microsoft announced what is possibly their biggest step forward in functionality within their Ease of Access accessibility settings since Windows 7. Eye Control is an inbuilt feature to facilitate access to the Windows 10 OS using the low cost eyegaze peripheral the Tracker 4 C from Tobii. More about what you can actually do with Eye Control below but first a little background to how this has come about.
Former American Football professional and MND (ALS) sufferer Steve Gleason (above) challenged Microsoft in 2014 to help people affected by this degenerative condition through the advancement eye tracking technology. This initial contact lead to the development of a prototype eye gaze controlled wheelchair, receiving lots of publicity and generating increased awareness in the process. However it was never likely to be progressed to a product that would be available to other people in a similar situation. What this project did achieve was to pique the interest of some of the considerable talent within Microsoft into the input technology itself and its application, particularly for people with MND.
A combination of factors felt on both sides of the Atlantic have proved problematic when it comes to providing timely AT support to people diagnosed with MND. Eyegaze input is the only solution that will allow successful computer access as the condition progresses, eye movement being the only ability left in the final stages of the illness. However, historically the cost of the technology meant that either insurance, government funding or private fundraising was the only means by which people could pay for eyegaze equipment. Usually this resulted in a significant delay which, due to the often aggressive nature of MND meant valuable time was lost and often the solution arrived too late. This situation was recognized by Julius Sweetland who led the development of Optikey, an Open Source computer access/AAC solution designed to work with low cost eye trackers back in 2015. Interestingly some of the innovative features of Optikey seem to have made it to Eye Control on Windows 10 (Multi-Key selection called Shape Writing on Eye Control – see gif below).
Since the initial Steve Gleason Wheelchair hack there has been a steady stream of high quality research papers coming from people at Microsoft on the subject of eyegaze input and MND solutions. This should have been a hint that something like Eye Control was on the horizon. EyeGaze input has promised to break into the mainstream several times over the last decade however with Eye Control and support for devices being included in the core Windows OS it has never been this close.
For more background on the path to Eye Control see this Microsoft blog post from Microsoft: From Hack to Product, Microsoft Empowers People with Eye Control for Windows 10
Want to find out how to get early access to Eye Control or get some more information on the functionality read this post from Tobii (be warned there are still bugs): How to get started with Eye Control on Windows.
I’m really excited about better eye control in Windows 10! I use EyeX 4C at home but I find the accuracy to be good to only within 1-2 inches. I ended up making more accurate mouse that includes head tracking http://precisiongazemouse.com/. I’d be happy to write a guest blog if you’re interested.
Thanks for the comment. I just checked out the video of your software and it’s very interesting indeed. Congratulations! I’m in the process of downloading and installing it as we have a Tracker 4 C and a Tracker IR here. I’ll let you know how I find it.
We would would be very open to you writing a guest post.
Hi Karl – thanks for mentioning OptiKey in this article. I particularly enjoyed this line “Interestingly some of the innovative features of Optikey seem to have made it to Eye Control on Windows 10 (Multi-Key selection called Shape Writing on Eye Control)”.
Thanks for the comment Julius. Credit where credit is due 🙂
I see Optikey might be offering symbol support soon, great development! You guys are doing some fantastic work.
That’s right. Support for CommuniKate was added in 2.9.0. come and try it!