Eye Gaze Wheelchair and Microsoft team show how innovation can overcome limitations

It began as an overhauled wheelchair fitted with electronic gadgets, hastily cut Styrofoam and a fair amount of duct tape, but the enormous promise of the hackathon prototype was unmistakable.

Just one year later, the technology gives former pro-football player Steve Gleason, who lost the ability to move his limbs to ALS, the capability to do what he couldn’t before: Cruise around the park or happily set “land-speed records” with his 4-year-old son, Rivers, cuddled on his lap, because he’s now able to propel himself without someone else’s help.

The Eye Gaze Wheelchair that captured imaginations and the grand prize at Microsoft’s first company-wide //oneweek hackathon last summer has made major advances, all from the dedicated efforts of a team that was created to work on such empowering projects at Microsoft full-time.

“Hackathon prototypes are fragile. They kind of work, they kind of don’t work, and that’s fine, because they show what might be possible,” says Microsoft Research Chief Scientist Rico Malvar. “We have a lot of work ahead of us, but our hope is that this technology will eventually be available to people with disabilities and make a big difference in the quality of their lives.”

As hackathon teams work on thousands of new projects for the second year, the Microsoft Research (MSR) Enable team’s progress on the Eye Gaze Wheelchair helps demonstrate how innovation can overcome limitations, and it’s a powerful example of Microsoft’s aim to help everyone on the planet achieve more.

“It’s showing what the potential is for Microsoft to really, truly empower people with technology,” says Jenny Lay-Flurrie, chair of the disAbility Employee Resource Group. “Everyone is deriving a lot of meaning from this. It matters.”

But perhaps no one is more excited at how far the Eye Gaze Wheelchair has come than the man who inspired its creation in the first place. Gleason, 38, says the device has liberated him and “absolutely revolutionized” his life.

Read more on Microsoft News Center.

Tracy Ith
Microsoft News Center Staff

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