As the date for the next big Windows 10 update approaches, Microsoft today released its latest developer preview, which includes a beta version of a new eye control system.
Borne out of a Microsoft hackathon challenge inspired by former NFL player Steve Gleason, who suffers from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), Eye Control enables disabled users with compatible eye tracker devices to operate Windows 10 PCs through gaze alone.
The Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, expected to arrive next month, will bring several improvements to the Microsoft Edge browser and will also update the default colors in the Windows Console for the first time in more than 20 years. The color changes are aimed at making text easier to see and read on today's high-contrast screens.
Available in beta through the Windows 10 Insider Preview Build 16257 released today, Eye Control lets users with limited mobility type, control a mouse and convert text to speech with compatible eye tracker accessories. The first such device to support those capabilities is the Tobii Eye Tracker 4C, announced yesterday by Tobii, a Sweden-based company that specializes in assistive technology.
"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," Tobii CEO Henrik Eskilsson said yesterday in a statement.
Microsoft began working with partners in the ALS and motor neuron disease (MND) community during its first hackathon three years ago, following a challenge by Gleason. Gleason had sent an email to Microsoft asking the company to develop a technology that would make it easier for him and others like him to control a wheelchair and communicate.
That challenge led to the concept of an Eye Gaze Wheelchair, which won the 2014 hackathon grand prize. Since then, Microsoft has continued to further refine its eye-tracking technology for use with PCs.
"Having Eye Control in Windows 10 continues to bridge the gap between widely used technology and people with disabilities," Gleason said in a post published yesterday on the Microsoft Accessibility Blog. "It's simply liberating."
More Modern Console Colors
Another change coming with the Fall Creators Update is an overhaul of the default colors that appear in the Windows Console. The new palette aims to make it easier to read text, especially in darker colors, and to "give the Console a more modern look & feel," project manager Craig Loewen wrote yesterday on the Microsoft Developer Blog.
"During the past 20 years, screens & display technology, contrast ratio, and resolution have changed significantly, from CRT's through TFT LCDs to modern-day nano-scale 4K displays," Loewen said. "The legacy default scheme was not built for modern displays and does not render as well on newer high-contrast LCD displays. This is particularly apparent with deeply saturated darker colors like blue."
For now, the new colors will not appear in the Windows Console default option. Microsoft plans to release a tool soon that will let developers try out the new color scheme, he said.
Other changes arriving with today's Insider preview include a refreshed browser frame look for Microsoft Edge, several fixes to the anti-virus Windows Defender Application Guard, and the elimination of a number of other bugs in previous builds. In addition, Developer Insiders who are in the Office Insider program will see new support for using 3D images in Word, Excel and PowerPoint.