Microsoft has announced a new feature for Windows 10 that is designed to make the operating system easier to control for people with disabilities; that feature is called Eye Control. The idea for the feature started way back in 2014 as a challenge from a former NFL player, Steve Gleason, who suffers from a neuromuscular disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Gleason challenged Microsoft employees during the 2014 hackathon, the company's first, to build a system that would allow for people with his condition and other similar conditions to better control technology to enrich their lives.
A team at the hackathon took that challenge calling itself "Ability Eye Gaze." The team went on to win the grand prize at the hackathon and Microsoft liked the idea so much that it formed a new Microsoft Research team to understand the potential for the eye tracking tech. That new teamed worked with Gleason's non-profit called Team Gleason and Evergreen ALSA, which is an organization for supporting people with the condition and their families.
Fast-forward to this year's hackathon at Microsoft, and CEO Satya Nadella has announced that Windows 10 is getting integrated eye-tracking support dubbed Eye Control and that the feature is directly linked to the 2014 grand prize winning hack. Eye Control allows users with disabilities to control an onscreen mouse, keyboard, and text-to-speech experience using only their eyes. The eyes are often the only body part not affected by ALS.
To use Eye Control, the consumer does need a compatible eye tracker system, such as the Tobii 4C. When that Tobii eye tracking tech is combined with Microsoft's new Eye Control, the user is able to accomplish things with their eyes that were previously only accomplishable with a mouse and keyboard. Microsoft says that for now Eye Control is in beta and those wanting early access for testing and feedback have to sign up for the Windows Insider program.
"There was this great vibe at One Week, it was like summer camp for innovative ideas rather than work. It was exciting to be challenged to follow our passions and think creatively with so many talented people from across the company," said Jon Campbell, a member of the Ability Eye Gaze team back in 2014. "While not all ideas are winners, the thing that makes the hackathon great is that other ideas we kicked around had real potential – like eye tracking technology to help people with ALS and how Windows can bring it to more people."
The Alienware 17 R4 2017 gaming laptop we reviewed in June is fitted with Tobii eye tracking tech, so check out that review for details on eye tracking in use.
Along with Eye Control, the latest Windows 10 Fall Creators Update Insider Preview also brings enhancements to Edge with a more modern look for the browser frame. That modernized look is inspired by the Microsoft Fluent Design System. The software giant used Acrylic material for "...depth and transparency to the tab bar and other controls." The button animations are also promised to be "more responsive and delightful."
One of the big updates has to do with the address bar. When the address bar isn't in focus and the user is clicking or dragging text, the address bar remains under the cursor. Before the text would shift as the user entered "http://" and that would make it hard to edit the URL. Fixes for things like image copying, closing tabs in full screen mode, and tab ordering are also part of the Edge update.