Independence Drive system image
Credit: GeekWire

A new system has been launched for disabled people with restricted mobility called the Independence Drive, which allows people to move their wheelchair by looking at one of eight points on a tablet that tracks eye movement through a camera.

The innovative solution is set to help individuals with neuromuscular conditions or reduced mobility caused by diseases such as Parkinson’s and cerebral palsy stay independent. To protect users of the Independence Drive system, the chair stops moving when people look away.

The emergence of the eye-controlled wheelchair system has come about after ex-NFL player Steve Gleason tasked a team of Microsoft hackers to develop a solution for people living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive neurological disease that Steve himself lives with.

The idea for Independence Drive was inspired by EyeGaze, a solution developed by Microsoft employees in 2014, which is a wheelchair that users could move through eye movement and a Surface tablet.

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According to GeekWire, Steve said in a statement: “There are still no treatments for ALS, but because of technology, people like me are able to remain productive and purposeful for years, even decades. Unfortunately, when I was diagnosed, the available technology was severely lacking and incredibly expensive.”

Team Gleason, which provides technology, equipment and services for people living with ALS, developed the clever system in collaboration with tech startup Evergreen Circuits and Livid Instruments founder Jay Smith, who also has ALS.

Additionally, wheelchair and medical equipment specialist Numotion will distribute the Independence Drive at its 150 national locations.

Towards the end of May 2019, the Independence Drive will be available for just under £4,000 at Numotion locations throughout America.

The Microsoft hackathon also led to the addition of an eye-tracking feature in Windows, which allows users to operate an on-screen mouse, keyboard and text-to-speech with their eyes.

“Independence Drive is one of the most exciting innovations we’ve seen in our industry in quite some time,” Numotion CEO Mike Swinford commented. “People fighting neuromuscular diseases have needed a breakthrough like this for quite some time. They deserve better solutions and we are incredibly honored to help bring this technology to market.”

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