On August 1, Microsoft announced that it will be adding support for eye-tracking technology to its Windows 10 operating system. The technology can serve as a technological lifeline for those with severe neuromuscular disabilities such as ALS and CP.
Microsoft partnered with Tobii, an industry-leader in eye-tracking technology, to develop the new functionality for the Windows OS. Tobii’s Eye Tracker 4c will be the first device to support this feature and allow users to control both keyboard and mouse with their gaze.
“Adding native eye-tracking support to Windows 10 is a key milestone in our mission to make this technology part of our everyday devices,” said Henrik Eskilsson, CEO of Tobii in a press release. “Through integration with Microsoft’s operating system, it becomes possible over time to realize robust eye tracking implementations that add a range of user benefits. This collaboration clearly shows the value of eye gaze input and is a big step forward on the long-term journey to drive high-volume adoption of eye tracking.”
Eye-tracking technology has been around since the 1980s, but due to cost, was often unavailable to those who needed it until 2001, when Medicare began covering eye-tracking devices for those who had no other option for communication. Presently, dedicated eye-tracking systems can cost $10,000 or more.
Tobii’s Eye Tracker 4c is part of its gaming division, which adds head and eye tracking functionality to immersive video games, and retails for only $149. The hope is that integration of eye-tracking accessibility features into such mainstream platforms such as Windows will have the effect of driving down costs and increasing access to the invaluable technology.
“Technology is basically a link to life for people with ALS,” said Alisa Brownlee, the clinical manager of assistive technology at the ALS Association to Slate.com. “As the disease progresses a lot of folks become isolated due to the fact that it’s such a burden to even get out the door. Our members rely on the internet for everything: to do their shopping, get on social media, and see what their families are up to.”
Microsoft says that the eye-tracking functionality is currently in beta-testing. Those interested in testing and providing feedback can enroll in its Windows Insider program.