Microsoft Windows Insiders are reported to have been trying out a new eye-tracking feature that enables users to type and even draw the shapes of letters just using their eye movements.
Development of the eye-tracking feature started back 2014, when ex US NFL player Steve Gleason challenged Microsoft to come up with something that could help him and people like him with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).
ALS is a form of motor neurone disease that adversely affects the ability of the brain to initiate and control, and muscle movement is lost. This means that sufferers lose the ability to use computer keyboards to type, hence the need for another way to type (using eye movement).
Ability Eye Glaze (AEG)
Ability Eye Glaze is the name given to the Microsoft technology (developed by Ability Eye Glaze team) that enables people to use their eye movements to perform tasks. AEG has many uses aside from typing e.g. controlling a wheelchair through a tablet computer where AEG is installed. AEG is also now part of Windows 10, thanks to Jake Cohen, Program Manager on the Windows Interaction Platform team.
Pre-Requisites For Using Eye Tracking on Windows
To access this feature, you need to be on the latest build of Windows Insider Preview, and, in possession of a Tobii Eye Tracker 4C (which costs around £140). For now, the eye-tracking feature only works on a US-English keyboard.
Eye-Tracking Feature Rollout
The eye-tracking feature will soon be rolled out to other eye-trackers like Tobii Dynavox PCEye Mini, PCEyePlus, EyeMobile Plus, and I-series.
As it is a Windows feature, it will be a part of Windows Holographic, and the recently released Acer Mixed Reality headset. Microsoft will also make Eye Control compatible with other eye trackers in the near future.
The development and widespread use of this new technology will not be without its challenges. For example, some commentators have highlighted security risks such as how using eye-tracking for authentication could bring the risk of hacking.
Other concerns that have been raised about the use of eye tracking on your computer are that it may not work well for those suffering from eye fatigue or astigmatism (not being able to rest your eyes often), or if a user is wearing contact lenses. There are also concerns that it may not work well where the lighting is bad.
Some commentators have even raised the point that, since eye-tracking generates information, it may be considered a biometric, may be affected by the UK data protection laws (GDPR and / or UK post-Brexit data laws), and could, therefore, be of interest to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
Eye tracking software of various kinds has long been used e.g. by the business world for marketing research. The introduction of this kind of technology to Windows will be a step forward for accessibility for users at home, in businesses and in other organisations and settings.
This story also highlights how the unique characteristics of different parts of the body are now being utilised in IT settings and applications for different purposes.
Biometrics, for example, is now being used by companies and other organisations to improve security e.g. for verification and authentication. Samsung introduced an iris scanner to its Note 7 phablet and Barclays Bank is introducing voice authentication for telephone banking customers. Also, this month, TSB announced that it will be introducing iris-scanning via mobile devices to enable customers to access their accounts because it is convenient and highly secure (more secure than fingerprint scanning).
Voice recognition is also being used by banks, but this type of system received a PR setback when it was reported that HSBC’s voice recognition system for customers had been fooled by BBC Click reporter Dan Simmons who passed his twin brother’s voice off as his own.
It looks as though Biometrics will continue to provide many opportunities for businesses in the coming months and years, and as customers become used to using them, and the technology improves and the cost of systems falls, more businesses will be able to take advantage of the strengths and benefits that biometric systems offer.