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A new iPad accessory adds assistive eye tracking

Tobii Dynavox's TD Pilot turns iPads with iPadOS 15 into a hands-free device controlled by eye movements.

td-pilot-launch-layne-indoors1
The TD Pilot is an iPad case that adds assistive eye tracking and a wheelchair mount. There's also a rear display for communicating to people in the same room.
Tobii Dynavox

Eye tracking has enabled people with paralysis or with conditions such as cerebral palsy and ALS to connect to computers for years. A new iPad accessory made by Swedish eye-tracking company Tobii Dynavox will do the same for Apple's tablets.

Tobii Dynavox is a separate assistive-device-focused subset of Tobii, a company that also makes eye-tracking tech for gaming laptops, business devices and AR-VR headsets. The company has had Windows-based assistive eye tracking products for years, but compatibility with iPads is new. The eye-tracking tech in the TD Pilot is entirely focused on interactions: Looking around instantly moves the large circular cursor, and holding your gaze in any place for a few moments acts like a click to press a button or open an app. 

The TD Pilot takes advantage of iPadOS 15's added support for eye-tracking inputs using Apple's Assistive Touch tools. Eye tracking can be used on any app, or across iPadOS. The rugged case has boosted speakers, cameras, infrared sensors for eye tracking and a rear display to send messages to others in the room. It's a prescription-only device that's available to order now. 

The device can work with a variety of iPads, but Tobii Dynavox says it's most effective with 12.9-inch iPad Pros. The eye tracking tech is ideally used on displays that are 12 inches and larger, which is also why the company isn't currently working on a similar tool for the iPhone.

"We already make iPad-based solutions where they basically control with joysticks and fingers, but up until very recently, eye tracking was not something you could do with an iPad or iPadOS," Tobii Dynavox CEO, Frederik Rubin, said to CNET. "This probably won't be the holy grail for everyone, but the iPad does meet a lot of the requirements for a lot of people."

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TD Snap, an eye-tracking-based communications app, running on the TD Pilot.

Tobii Dynavox

The case is an insurance-covered and medically vetted device, specifically designed for uses such as mounting on wheelchairs. The accessory supports an existing Tobii symbol-based communication app called TD Snap, and a new speech-generating app called TD Talk, which turns typed messages into spoken words. I saw a remote video demo of the TD Pilot eye tracking in action, and it reminded me of demos I've done demonstrating how eye gaze can interact with VR

This technology isn't designed for anything but in specific accessibility cases, but it's likely to be a useful alternative to the Windows eye-tracking tech that already exists.