In July 2014, a group of Microsoft employees got together to control an electric wheelchair via eye gaze. It was all part of the company’s first global employee hackathon, an event in which thousands of employees from all different divisions of the company work on some 2,700 projects.
Their work was inspired by former NFL player Steve Gleason, a former safety with the New Orleans Saints and a former football star at Washington State University. Gleason has a neuromuscular disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and uses a wheelchair. He communicates using Tobii eye-tracking technology and a Microsoft Surface tablet that turns what he “types” on the tablet with his eye movements into speech. That technology allows him to speak, listen to music, play videos for his son, tweet, text and do many other things.
“I’ve always believed that until there is a medical cure, technology would be that cure,” Gleason said. “It was important for me, my family and foundation to be able to communicate as efficiently as technology would allow.”