Head-tracking technology is relatively new. Similar to eye-tracking technology, it follows the motion of a person’s head to control devices like computers or smartphones. It is a form of assistive technology for people with physical disabilities.
A lot goes into head-tracking technology, so let's break it down. What are the pros? What are the cons? And how does this technology affect digital accessibility?
The pros of head-tracking technology
At its core, head-tracking technology makes other technology more accessible. For people with mobility and physical disabilities, like paralysis, using a computer without accessibility aids may be difficult or impossible. Being able to use a mouse, keyboard, and screen without any issues are things that people without disabilities may take for granted. But for a person with mobility challenges, these default input devices can be barriers to equal access.
There is also a growing market for head tracking technology, meaning its availability could expand. Head tracking is being incorporated into things like video games, and it is an alternative to virtual reality (VR). VR is growing in popularity, with headsets becoming more affordable, but the VR experience is not necessarily accessible. Those with motion sickness or anxiety, among other disabilities, may be unable to use VR safely. Head-tracking technology allows for a similar experience without the side effects.
Ultimately, head-tracking technology means improved accessibility. And ongoing innovation improves the precision of the control it offers to users. It’s come a long way since its inception — now, a simple nod or blink can control an entire computer experience.
The cons of head-tracking technology
The biggest downside to this technology is the price. Though there are lower-cost trackers out there, this technology is imprecise and often relies on a user having a webcam, which not everyone has access to. A full package — that is to say, the software and hardware needed to operate head and eye tracking effectively — can cost thousands of dollars.
This can be inaccessible to people with disabilities, especially if they are living on a fixed income, like social security or disability insurance. If a person with mobility challenges or a physical disability cannot acquire the technology needed to operate a computer, this creates a barrier to equal access.
Another con to head tracking is that it’s not as advanced for mobile devices as for computers. Though some smartphones feature head tracking to some extent — like Apple, for instance — many require third-party apps and setup, so a user may need a certain level of mobility or assistance to get things working.
Digital accessibility and head tracking
Despite the cons, head-tracking technology counts as a win for digital accessibility. So much of our lives are spent online, from work to leisure time, and granting access to people who otherwise would face barriers is extremely important. As the digital and physical worlds become more interconnected, people with disabilities must not be left behind.
Head-tracking technology is a win for the economy as well. Much of the U.S. population does its shopping online. E-commerce has exploded in the past decade, especially with the rise of behemoths like Amazon, and same-day delivery has become the norm. Providing people with disabilities the same opportunity to shop online makes sound fiscal sense, and head-tracking technology can help.
Those working in the technology and e-commerce industries should support head-tracking technology wherever possible. Even though the technology is still young, incorporating it when and where you can means prioritizing accessibility and encouraging others to do the same.
The impact of head-tracking technology
The overall impact of head-tracking technology — and related apps and features on smartphones — has been positive. Despite it still being too costly to be widely accessible, people with disabilities are excited about technology that allows them to be part of the digital world, especially since online communities are so common these days. Technology can be a huge support system for people with disabilities, provided they can access it, and head-tracking technology is one tool that helps them do so.
Head tracking is an exciting development in assistive technology that helps people with mobility and physical disabilities use devices via head or eye movement. It stands to help surmount a huge barrier to accessing digital content and services and, though there is still lots of room for growth and development, change the lives of people with disabilities.