Google is offering up new ways for people with various disabilities to more easily use their smartphones.

The technology giant said that it’s now possible to control Android-powered smartphones hands-free by using simple gestures like smiling, raising eyebrows or looking to one direction.

The new options are available through two tools — Camera Switches and Project Activate — which use machine learning technology and the phone’s front-facing camera to pick up on gestures.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Camera Switches is a feature inside Switch Access, a long-standing option allowing people to use adaptive buttons called physical switches to control their phones. The new offering allows users to assign six types of facial gestures to different actions like returning to the home screen or opening notifications.

Project Activate meanwhile gives users the ability to assign these same facial gestures to more complex actions like speaking a preset phrase, making a phone call or sending a text.

The gestures are customizable, Google said, so users can determine how long to hold a gesture or how big it must be in order for the phone to respond.

“Every day, people use voice commands, like ‘Hey Google,’ or their hands to navigate their phones. However, that’s not always possible for people with severe motor and speech disabilities,” wrote Lisie Lillianfeld, a product manager with Google Research, and Allen Nikkam, a product manager with Google’s Central Accessibility Team, in a posting announcing the new offerings. “Now it’s possible for anyone to use eye movements and facial gestures to navigate their phone — sans hands and voice!”

The updates are aimed at people with motor and speech disabilities, Google said, and the new tools were developed with feedback from people who rely on alternative communication technology.

Read more stories like this one. Sign up for Disability Scoop's free email newsletter to get the latest developmental disability news sent straight to your inbox.