Lauren Goode

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At CES, Control Your Computer Screen With Your “Gaze”

At last year’s D9 conference, Sweden-based Tobii demonstrated cool eye-tracking technology that enables users to control a PC without hands.

At next week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Tobii plans to show off how its interactive eye-tracking software, called Gaze, works with Microsoft’s Windows 8 Metro interface.

Gaze would go in a compact rectangular device — smaller than the current 8-inch Tobii IS-1 tracker — that sits below the laptop screen and tracks a user’s eye movement using sensors built into the bar. You activate Gaze by tapping the trackpad once, and Gaze takes a few seconds to find your pupil and calculate the point of gaze using mathematical algorithms. An imaginary “head movement box” is created to delineate a range of motion in which you can still move your head and have the device track you.

In terms of precision, Tobii says the sensors measure within a quarter-inch of the tile or icon you’re looking at. For smaller icons or small text, Gaze still allows a user to navigate the cursor using the laptop’s trackpad, by pressing their fingers down on the pad instead of tapping it once.

Here’s a video showing how it works on Windows 8:

Gaze could, theoretically, work on tablets, too. But Tobii business development manager Anders Olsson says that tablet interaction is so smooth to begin with — with capacitive touch within an arm’s length of the user — that tablets don’t need much improvement. It’s boring old laptops that could use a boost.

“Gaze takes away the whole intermediate step of having a mouse or even using touch technology,” Olsson said in an interview. “We see this as an important innovation because, compared to tablets, laptops feel very ancient right now, in terms of user experience.”

While eye-tracking tech like Gaze could make sense for TV viewing as well, given the growing interest in gesture technology, Olsson said Tobii’s technology isn’t quite up to speed for TV. In fact, it could be a couple more years before Gaze hits the mass market.

Tobii doesn’t plan to sell Gaze directly to consumers, but will work with electronics manufacturers to ship on laptops. While the company says it is in talks with computer makers and electronics manufacturers, it hasn’t officially partnered with anyone, including Microsoft, for the development of Tobii Gaze (although Microsoft is expected to show Tobii eye-tracking demos at its CES booth, as well).

Eye-tracking technology isn’t new, but until now it has been used primarily in niche markets, as a tool for people with severe physical disabilities, or for psychological researchers who monitor eye movement to determine cognitive abilities.

Tobii has been around since 2001, and currently holds 13 patents in the area of eye-tracking tech.

(Image credit: Flickr/Mike Garza)

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