Microsoft has announced a new eye tracking software technology that will be coming in the next Windows 10 Fall Creators update. The feature will allow people to control and navigate a Windows 10 laptop with their eyes. It will be available from the 17 of October which the release date of the upcoming update and will be accessible from the Insider program of Windows 10.
The feature will require special hardware for eye tracking and Microsoft has partnered with a company called Tobii that creates such type of hardware. Now the feature can be used by anyone, however, when Microsoft started working on it, it wasn’t meant for the general public.
In 2014, Microsoft held a hackathon at their company which saw employees building new and impactful technologies. Before the hackathon, the company had received an email from former NFL player Steve Gleason, who has a neuromuscular disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), challenging them to create something to help him access technology despite of his disease.
ALS is a disease which causes the death of specialized cells that transmit nerve impulses (neurons) that control muscle movement. The death of neurons then results in difficulty moving, speaking, swallowing, and eventually, breathing. According to research, for most people with ALS, it takes about 2-5 years before the disease takes them away and the eyes are the only muscle not impacted during this time.
The team that worked on the project at the Hackathon ended up growing into a research team dedicated to eye tracking development to help people like Steve have the same access to technology as everyone. The eye tracking feature will allow people to type and operate the mouse for navigation just using their eyes.
Such developments in technology are important as they increase the accessibility of widely used software like Windows 10. Now someone with a disease like ALS will be able to stay connected with the world and converse easily with others around them. Hopefully, some Zimbabweans will see this as inspiration for them to create solutions that help the disabled locally just like that jacket that allows blind people to navigate the world easily which was created by a Harare Institute of Technology student.