TD Pilot will allow people with disabilities to control iPads with their eyes – .

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TD Pilot will allow people with disabilities to control iPads with their eyes – .



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There’s a lot of new stuff in iPadOS 15, but it also offers an underrated accessibility upgrade: support for third-party eye tracking devices. This will allow people with disabilities to use iPad apps and voice generation software simply by eye movements – no touchscreen interaction required. Tobii Dynavox, the assistive technology division of eye-tracking company Tobii, has worked with Apple for years to achieve this. And now the company is set to announce TD Pilot, a device that aims to bring the iPad experience to the roughly 50 million people around the world who need communication support.

The TD Pilot is essentially a super-powered frame for Apple tablets: it can fit something as big as the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, and it also packs large speakers, long battery life, and a wheelchair support. Fortunately, it’s water and dust resistant, so it will survive the weather of a rainstorm or even a user’s shower. There is also a secondary “partner window” on the back that explains what a TD Pilot user is saying, which aims to make the conversation more natural. Most importantly, it features Tobii Dynavox’s latest eye-tracking sensor, which is powerful enough to operate in direct sunlight.

This isn’t exactly new territory for the company – they’ve been producing popular Windows-based assistive devices for years. But, as CEO Fredrik Ruben tells Engadget, TD Pilot offers disabled users the same kind of flexibility as non-disabled users. Some may not need the full power of a Windows PC, or maybe they just prefer to use the simpler interface of an iPad. TD Pilot users will also be able to use eye tracking to play certain iPadOS games, as long as they don’t require blazingly fast movement.

While Tobii Dynavox is currently the market leader in eye tracking solutions, a small company ended up providing iPad support first. Inclusive Technology’s Skyle was launched last year and provides gaze control using the iPad’s Assistive Touch feature. This was originally intended for mice and other input devices. Therefore, Ruben claims that the technique is more akin to emulated tracking, as it involves looking at a cursor to move it. Always, a little criticism from the Products for pALS YouTube channel was quite supportive (and also had less nice things to say about dated Tobii Dynavox software).

Skyle’s $ 2,995 price tag can also be another plus if your insurance doesn’t cover TD Pilot. Ruben tells us that Tobii Dynavox already has around 400 insurance contracts and that its devices are already covered by Medicare and Medicaid. Without insurance, however, the total cost of the TD Pilot could reach $ 10,000, not including the cost of the iPad. A portion of this cost will also go towards setting up the device, as well as paying for the Tobii Dynavox software.

A screen showing the TD Pilot iPad software

When I tried Tobii eye-tracking technology in VR a few years ago, I felt like it was a super power. I could hit a distant target with a stone just by focusing on it. It’s not hard to see how useful this technology could be with an iPad for users with disabilities. Last year, we said that assistive technology still has a long way to go, despite some advancements from companies like Microsoft and Google. So, to say the least, it’s encouraging to see another solution emerge, especially one that forced Apple to open up its restrictive ecosystem in the name of accessibility.

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