Ex-NFL player Steve Gleason launches eye-controlled wheelchair system inspired by Microsoft hackathon

Ex-NFL player Steve Gleason launches eye-controlled wheelchair system inspired by Microsoft hackathon

11:23am, 11th April, 2019
The Independence Drive is a system that lets users control their wheelchair using eye-tracking software. (Team Gleason Photo) It all started with a hackathon. Back in 2014, a team of Microsoft employees developed the EyeGaze, a wheelchair that users could move through eye movement and a Surface tablet. The project was a response to a challenge from ex-NFL player Steve Gleason, who lives with the progressive neurological disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Gleason tasked the hackers with developing a solution for others living with the disease. Five years later, that project has come to market in the form of the , a system that lets users move their wheelchair by looking at one of eight points on a tablet, which tracks eye movement through a camera. For safety reasons, the chair stops when users look away. “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,” Gleason said in a statement. “Unfortunately, when I was diagnosed, the available technology was severely lacking and incredibly expensive.” Gleason is set to this year, making him the first person with ALS to receive the U.S.’s highest civilian honor. Former pro football player Steve Gleason was diagnosed with ALS in 2011. (Lucien Knuteson Photo) Gleason developed the system in partnership with Seattle-based tech startup Evergreen Circuits and Livid Instruments founder Jay Smith, who is also living with ALS. Wheelchair manufacturer and retailer Numotion will distribute the Independence Drive at its 150 national locations. Gleason has long fought for assistive technology. He inspired the project, which aims to use big data to understand and develop treatments for the disease. Microsoft last year with $1 million in cloud computing and technical services. The Microsoft hackathon also led to the , 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 CE Mike Swinford said in the statement. “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.” Numotion said Infinity Drive can also help patients with limited mobility resulting from spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s disease and cerebral palsy, among other conditions. The system will be available at Numotion locations nationally late next month. Gleason, who grew up in Spokane, Wash., was a safety for the New Orleans Saints who became famous for in the team’s first home game at the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina. The block was later outside the stadium.