With Eye Control, Microsoft aims to help users with disabilities to operate an on-screen mouse, keyboard, and text-to-speech experience with their eyes. It is now in beta in what is now the ninth build of the upcoming Windows 10 Fall Creators Update.
Eye Control requires users to own or purchase a Tobii Eye Tracker 4C, which then unlocks access to the Windows operating system allowing the user to do tasks with just their eyes. It’s important to note that more eye tracker devices will be supported in the future. Microsoft is open to working with other hardware vendors as well as Tobii.
The controls of Eye Control start with a launchpad. This allows users to access the mouse, keyboard, and text-to-speech features, as well as reposition the user interface to the opposite side of the screen. Once it is launched, using it is simple – all you have to do is look at the UI with your eyes until the Eye Control interaction model button activates. There will be a visual that pops up that will indicate exactly what you are looking at.
Eye Control really is that simple. To use the mouse, users must train their eyes on the target to click on, and then can select an action like left click, double left click, right click, or cancel. To type, users must look at the keyboard, then train their eyes on each letter to type. Once the basic keyboard is mastered, Microsoft added a shape-writing feature that can form words by dwelling at the first and last character of the word, or by glancing at letters in between. Currently, Eye Control only supports the EN-US keyboard layout, with support for more coming in the future.
The journey to bringing Eye Control to Windows 10 started three years ago during the Microsoft’s One Week Hackathon in 2014. At the event, former NFL player Steve Gleason challenged employees at the hackathon to develop technology that could address the constraints that those living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) have in regards to technology. For most people with ALS, including Gleason, the eyes are the only muscle that hasn’t been effected by the disease.
This challenge led to the ‘Ability Eye Gaze’ team to creating a tool that would allow Gleason to drive his wheelchair by using his eyes and looking at controls on his Surface. CEO Satya Nadella proclaimed this creation as the winner of the hackathon, and soon Microsoft development teams were tasked with creating this type of technology. This new team worked closely with Gleason’s nonprofit, Team Gleason, and Evergreen ALSA.
Now, Eye Control functionality will be available in the next Windows 10 update. The Windows 10 Fall Creators Update is rumored to drop in September.