Thursday, January 12, 2012

One Per Cent

CES: A laptop that follows your eyes

Peter Nowak, contributor
EyeTrackingWindows2.JPG(Image: Peter Nowak)

Touch control, voice control, gesture control: alternative interfaces - or those that aren't mice and keyboards - are all the rage at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES). With electronics gaining ever more computing power, it's understandable that old inputs don't necessarily apply to new gadgets.
And we can now add eye tracking to the list of interfaces that are showing future promise. Sweden's Tobii Technology, for one, is at CES showing off its system on laptops running Windows 8.
How it works is simple - the user looks at an application on screen and taps the computer's touchpad to launch it. The tracking technology is housed in a sensor along the bottom of the screen. Invisible infrared lights illuminate the viewer's eyes, then rapid-action cameras take pictures - about 30 per second - to build a 3D model of them.
"Once we know where the eye is looking, we can treat it like a cursor or a pointer," says Tobii spokeswoman Barbara Barclay.
In a demo the technology worked surprisingly well, although having to tap the computer's touchpad to launch applications - but not to navigate the screen - felt unnatural. The eye tracking conflicted with the urge to swipe the touchpad to move around.
Eye tracking won't replace traditional computer controls, Barclay admits, but there are niches where it will be considerably better suited.

"If you're looking at photographs, whether on a tablet or computer, you probably wouldn't want to use your hands at all," she said. "You just want to look, left right, left right. You can scroll through them with your eyes faster than anything."
Like many companies, Tobii is at CES to attract buyers and investors. The technology is still a few years away from being affordable, but with the success of new interfaces such as Microsoft's Kinect, it is attracting bigger players, Barclay said.

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