Operating your computer with your eyes might sound like something straight out of science fiction. You might also be wondering: what exactly is the advantage?
Actually, Eye Control opens up immense possibilities, particularly for people with degenerative neuromuscular diseases such as ALS. The world-famous physicist, Stephen Hawking, already uses a similar control technology. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford current eye-tracking solutions, which have been developed on a small scale and are often very expensive.
The only way to communicate with the outside world
Microsoft’s new system is a low-cost option that will make it much easier for people with ALS to communicate with friends and family. Users will be able to compose a text by selecting the letters with their eyes. In other words, their eyes will replace the mouse and keyboard.
It was when they heard about the tragic condition of NFL player Steve Gleason that Microsoft employees were moved to organize a hackathon and set up a research team dedicated to accelerating development of the technology and making it available to as many people as possible.
Since 2014, Microsoft has been working with Tobii, a manufacturer of eye-tracking modules, to bring the system to market.
To use Eye Control on Windows 10, a person will have to get an eye-tracking device. That’s it! Support for eye-tracking will be built into Windows 10.
The feature officially went into beta-testing this month and will be released sometime next year. The date of the general release has not yet been announced.
Given the system’s potential to improve the quality of life of people who are suffering, there is strong pressure to get it in people’s hands as quickly as possible. As Microsoft software design engineer Harish Kulkarni puts it, “It’s not like someone’s going to die if you don’t do your work today. But in our case it’s literally like that. We’re always racing against someone else’s progression of the disease.”
A boon for marketing?
Microsoft isn’t the only company that’s interested in eye-tracking. For example, Facebook bought the start-up The Eye Tribe in December 2016. Officially, Facebook’s goal is to enable people to make their newsfeed scroll down the screenjust by moving their eyes.
Unofficially, there’s room for speculation.
Might Facebook be interested in other information our eyes could transmit? Like how much time we spend looking at ads? That is potentially vital and unique data; it could let Facebook charge advertisers more, depending on how long we focus on their ads. Or it could help advertisers create super-effective ads based on where our eyes go first on the screen and where they rest the longest.
If these types of capabilities are developed, they could revolutionize the world of online advertising.
Site managers could sell advertising space at higher rates, according to how much attention the ads attract. Advertisers might pay for their ads only if people are actually looking at them, not as soon as the webpage is loaded.
There are many people who are imprisoned in their bodies by disease. Microsoft’s eye control project is an exciting development that promises to have a huge impact on such patients and their families.
However, with all the progress being made on this front, rules will be needed to regulate how companies use the new technologies. On the one hand, eye tracking will make it easier for many people to communicate, but on the other it is a technology that could become very invasive.
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