Eye-tracking is already well known in consumer behavioural studies. It has now been extended to enable remote control of computers for the mass market, with a variety of potential adaptations in other fields.
Could the average consumer soon be able to use just his/her eyes to control a computer? This is the prediction of Antoine Luu, Area Manager for Western Europe at Tobii Technology, a firm which specialises in eye-tracking. L’Atelier caught up with him at the Printemps des Etudes conference which took place on 4-5 April at the Palais Brongniart in Paris. Tobii has hitherto been providing companies with consumer behaviour analysis based on eye-tracking. The Swedish company is now planning to go to market at the end of the year with a system for the general public which can be linked up to a personal computer and will then use infrared sensors to work out what exactly the user is looking at and enable him/her to give commands to the computer using eyes only. And there will be no need to use the special glasses needed for other eye-tracking-based remote control applications.
Calibrating the system
In detail, the system developed by Tobii comprises a sensor loaded with infrared micro-projectors, optical sensors and an image processor. To make it work, you first need to install the sensor on your PC, between the screen and the keyboard, and then link it to the computer by plugging it into a USB port. Next the micro-projectors must be calibrated to sense what exactly you are looking at and what your intentions are, based on five points fixed to the computer screen, which serve to synchronise your eye movement with the sensor. Once you have completed this set-up phase, every time you subsequently look at the screen, it will respond to your gaze and follow your ocular instructions. For example, if you wish to read through a document online, you just have to look at the top of the screen in order to scroll up or at the bottom when you are ready to go down. However, to prevent the page from sliding around every time your eyes move, you can block and unblock the function by clicking on the space bar of the keyboard.
Wide range of potential uses
The system could also be extremely useful in what are known as augmentative and alternative communication solutions for people with physical disabilities, including impaired speech. It could potentially enable them to write with their eyes using a digital keyboard. Another similar use would be to develop communication systems for autistic children, based on interpreting their gaze. Another area where there are plans to use the eye-tracking system is in a heads-up display in an automobile. A transparent display can be placed at head height, so that drivers will not only be able to view the dashboard information – speed, time, fuel tank, etc – but also, using the eye-tracking sensors, switch radio and music on and off and use the GPS, without taking their eyes off the road. It could moreover be used in ‘Advanced Driver Assistance’ systems inter alia to detect driver drowsiness and so promote greater safety at the wheel.