Tuesday, March 1, 2011

World's First Eye-Controlled Laptop Arrives

eye-controlled laptop

First there was the keyboard and mouse. Then came the touchscreen and motion control. Now a Swedish company could be offering a glimpse into the future of the computer interface with the world's first laptop that's controlled by the user's eyes.

Tobii, a company that develops eye tracking and control technology, partnered with Lenovo to build a prototype computer that responds to eye movements like they were mouse clicks. For example, glancing at a specific icon can present more information about that subject, and applications with maps or photos can center the image based on what you're looking at.

"It makes using a laptop more efficient," Barbara Barclay, general manager of Tobii North America, told PCMag. "What if you could just look to where you're going to take your mouse and the [cursor] just appears there. If you're have to look at something anyway, why not have that actually facilitate the movement you're getting ready to make?"

Eye-tracking technology is useful in many systems—some 3D screens track eyes to render 3D images without the user needing to wear special glasses. Another kind of eye-tracking system shown recently at a trade show tracks the eyes of drivers in order to warn them when they showed the driver was getting drowsy.

In the case of Tobii's laptop, the eye-tracking technology is meant mainly as a way to make the experience more efficient, rather than a way to replace any part of a typical computer's interface.

"Eye-tracking can supplant some things," says Barclay. "But I don't think it's as effective as combining it with other things. You don't necessarily want to have everything selected because you look at it for two seconds. You want to be able to look at it and have a way to select it. But if looking is the fastest thing you can do, then what better way to get to the thing you want to accomplish?"

Barclay says Tobii's eye-tracking software can do things like scroll through text and put your computer into sleep mode just by looking at the screen (or away from it) in different ways. The software could even be tweaked so that closing one's eyes for different periods could execute different commands. The company hopes such possibilities excite investors and developers (there is an SDK), so Tobii can further develop it further.

"This is the beginning," says Barclay. "Imagine you're looking at 3D models of things, and you want to have it so that when you shift your head from left to right, the object that you're looking at moves relative to your location."

Lenovo and Tobii made just 20 prototypes total of the eye-spying laptop for demo purposes. The sensors add significant bulk to the laptop design, though, and the company says the technology is "a couple of years" (and a couple of partners) away from being put into machines on store shelves.

What do you think of Tobii's eye-controlled laptop—a visionary idea of just an technological eyesore? Let us know in the comments.
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