Date: 2nd March 2011

Coming soon, the eye-tracking technology that will allow you to control your computer by sight

A laptop prototype has been unveiled with device which could allow users to control their computers by sight – and could make them even faster to use, according to the inventors.

The eye-tracking technology monitors the user’s gaze and works out where they’re looking on the computer screen and means, among other things, that users can play a game where they defeat enemies because the game’s lasers hit where they look. It can also scroll text on the screen in response to eye movements, sensing when the reader has reached the end of the visible text.

In the future, such a laptop could make the mouse cursor appear where they user is looking, or make a game character maintain eye contact, according to Tobii Technology Inc, the Swedish firm behind the tracking technology.

Now planned for commercial use, the eye tracker works by shining two invisible infrared lights at the user. Two hidden cameras then look for the ‘glints’ from eyeballs and reflections from each retina. It needs to be calibrated for each person, and works for those with or without glasses.

Barbara Barclay, general manager of Tobii’s Analysis Solutions business, said rather than a replacement for the traditional mouse and keyboard or the touch screen, the eye-tracking could be complementary, making a computer faster and more efficient to use.

Tobii has been making eye-tracking devices for researchers and the disabled for nearly a decade. The laptop is its way of showing that eye-tracking could expand beyond those uses, Ms Barclay said

The laptop is made by Lenovo Corp, and incorporates Tobii’s eye-tracking cameras in a ‘hump’ on the cover, making the entire package about twice as thick as a normal laptop. But future, commercial versions can be slimmer and are perhaps two years away, she said. Lenovo and Tobii made 20 of the laptops and planned to demonstrate them at the CeBIT technology trade show in Hanover, Germany.

Tobii’s current, standalone eye-trackers cost tens of thousands of dollars, but Barclay said the cost of adding consumer-level eye-tracking to a commercial laptop could be much less.

New ways to use computers have proliferated in recent years. Touch screens have become popular on smart phones and tablet computers such as the iPad. Nintendo’s Wii game console brought motion-sensing technology to the masses. Microsoft released an accessory for its Xbox games console last year which uses an infrared camera to sense the movement of bodies in three dimensions.

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