The Ability Drive is an alternative wheelchair drive control system that combines proprietary software, a modified tablet computer and eye tracking camera to create a "virtual joystick."
To operate the wheelchair, a user simply looks at the appropriate graphic on the tablet to move the chair in eight directions. Multiple safety features ensure that the chair stops when the user looks away - whether deliberately or unintentionally.
A Unique Story
The concept behind Ability Drive originated when Steve Gleason, a former NFL player who played for the New Orleans Saints from 2000-2008 and is living with ALS, issued a challenge during a Microsoft hackathon in 2014. His challenge was to help improve technology for people with ALS and other disabilities that would enable them to move their wheelchairs through eye tracking. Microsoft created a research prototype that demonstrates the feasibility of eye-controlled wheelchair navigation. That work inspired Gleason’s foundation, Team Gleason, to independently pursue developing a system to enable control of wheelchairs via eye tracking.
Tolt Technologies, in partnership with Team Gleason and Jay Smith, who is also living with ALS and is the former CEO and Founder of Livid Instruments, an Austin, Texas-based music technology company, took the concept and created what is now Ability Drive. Gleason and Smith have personally been using the technology on their own wheelchairs since 2015.
Although Ability Drive was originally developed to help patients fighting ALS, there is potential for it to help people with other diseases and medical conditions ranging from spinal cord injuries to Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, and a host of others.