Microsoft is making gaming more accessible for patients at 22 Veterans Affairs rehab centers by supplying them with its Xbox Adaptive Controllers for players with disabilities. The goal is to allow wounded veterans a social outlet that is also therapeutic and can help with rehabilitation.
The $100 controller, which launched last year, looks like an oversized version of a regular Xbox controller in a big box, with two huge programmable buttons. It allows gamers to build out their own custom setups and add devices like buttons and joysticks to suit their needs. The setup works with Xbox One and Windows 10 PC games.
“Gaming is now everywhere in the world, and while people tend to think of it as isolating, we’re finding that it actually has the opposite effect and can increase interactions with other veterans and folks who are non-veterans,” Dr. Leif Nelson, director of national veterans sports programs and special events for the VA, said in an announcement.
Microsoft is also using the partnership as a way to gather data and improve the device going forward.
The accessible device was inspired by a custom controller made by Warfighter Engaged, a nonprofit focused on helping wounded military veterans recover through gaming. In 2015, a group of Microsoft employees created a solution for Warfighter Engaged at an accessibility hackathon to make it easier to outfit vets with gaming devices.
The controller made its official debut last year, and Microsoft later put it at the center of a Super Bowl ad this year that starred a 9-year-old gamer.
Microsoft has a long history of creating solutions both for people with disabilities and the U.S. military. The company has committed $25 million over five years to develop artificial intelligence-powered technologies to help people with disabilities. One of Microsoft’s efforts, Seeing AI, is an application that uses artificial intelligence to see and narrate the world for low-vision users.
On some Navy submarines, Microsoft game-console controllers are being used to control the periscope. Microsoft is also currently battling Amazon Web Services for the Pentagon’s $10 billion JEDI cloud contract.
But Microsoft’s military work has not always been welcome. Earlier this year, a group of Microsoft employees called on the company to drop its $480 million contract to outfit the U.S. Army with 100,000 HoloLens “mixed reality” headsets. “We did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand a say in how our work is used,” the employees wrote in a letter to CEO Satya Nadella and President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith.