Recently, a caring mother named Andreas asked me if there are any VR headsets that one can play without using hand controllers. She said she was thinking of buying a VR headset for her son, but that he has very limited movement and strength due to spinal muscular atrophy.
I responded with some good news, some bad news, and some encouraging news.
THE GOOD NEWS
There is a headset by HTC Vive called the “Pro EYE” that allows control via eye tracking, and therefore doesn’t require controllers. It’s available from vive.com or amazon, and many big retailers.
Tobii Eyetracking software is a leading developer of eye tracking
While it can work for controlling content specific apps, it’s not fully integrated into the operating system (OS) yet - but it is close. This means it only properly works on specific games/experiences, but full menu integration has begun. It’s a situation we are checking regularly.
At MXTreality we work closely with HTC Vive and have a particular focus on the medical industry, particularly with those with Spinal Cord Injuries, ALS, and related restrictive movement. We also work with several medical institutions and are developing an array of solutions (escapes, entertainment, education, etc.) that are fully operable via one of the following selection methods:
head based gaze (no eye tracking needed)
Note that these have eye tracking as an option, yet also offer two alternative hands/controller free options.
It is very prudent to acknowledge that Windows Mixed Reality (aka WMR) does a great job of using voice based selection in their OS. I recommend the Samsung Odyssey Plus VR headset in terms of comfort, quality, and ease of use. Using this device, the user will be able to navigate around the homebase, select experiences to enjoy, search the web and more - all via their voice.
As far as whether eye tracking or voice control are better for movement in VR; not surprisingly it depends on the particular game or experience one is enjoying but could certainly also depend on the abilities of the user, which is something to keep in mind when developing solutions accessible to all.
In terms of when our accessibility driven solutions will be usable by Andreas's son; we are close to pushing a public and commercial suite of solutions, and are currently in the testing, listening and improvement phase. I am sure there are other companies like ours out there developing hands-free solutions, so the future is looking very encouraging.
On a personal level, I have a few friends with similar accessibility needs (some who help us develop and test) and so have a vested interest in hands-free selection and movement.
Further, such controls help everyone, irrespective of abilities, and so this note is crucial to adoption and I encourage anyone building solutions to consider a hands-free option.
It’s worth noting that other hands-free solutions exist that are more affordable and utilize mobile phones in a portable mobile VR headset. As an example, check out Maze Walk VR on the iOS app store.
I told Andreas if she'd like to consider her son being a tester for us, to please feel free to reach out - as such solutions are only as good as the feedback we receive, thus we encourage honest and open constructive advice, tips and knowledge.
If you're interested in learning more, visit our IMPACT page, or if you know someone who would be interested in doing some work as a tester of these type of solutions, send them our way at firstname.lastname@example.org!