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What Will Apple Do With Swedish Eye-Tracking Technology? 170

Posted by timothy
from the oh-just-the-usual dept.
andylim writes "An article on recombu.com explores the possibility that Apple is gearing up to launch eye-tracking technology soon. Citing a patent filed in 2008 that mentions 'gaze vectors' and a recent purchase of units from a Swedish eye-tracking company, the author suggests that the inclusion of eye-tracking tech in the company's forthcoming tablet would be Jobs's magnum opus. 'What better flourish to a career that began with the popularization of windows, icons, mouse and pointer than to usurp them all?'"
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What Will Apple Do With Swedish Eye-Tracking Technology?

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  • by Em Emalb (452530) <ememalb@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @04:57PM (#30756088) Homepage Journal

    Too soon?

  • by RealErmine (621439) <commerce@@@wordhole...net> on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @04:58PM (#30756092)
    I'm not Swedish. Am I immune to this technology?
  • by Drethon (1445051) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @05:03PM (#30756170)
    Not sure if this technology would apply to it but I've always wanted a computer with main unit, say the size of a cell phone, wired to a set of LCD glasses (preferably transparent so you could see whats going on around you while using it). Then you could navigate with voice commands, gestures and eye movements.

    Though with multi-touch coming these days you could have multiple mouse icons and use eye movement and mouse movement on the same computer or instead eliminate the mouse and never have to take your hands off the keyboard to navigate (yes some of us use computers for more than porn).

    Just my $0.02
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Rockoon (1252108)

      wired to a set of LCD glasses

      Are you still young enough to focus on things less than an inch from your eye? I suggest that you actually try it. You'll probably be surprised that you can't. This technology would have been here a decade ago if there was a mass market for it. There isn't.

    • by dangitman (862676)

      Then you could navigate with voice commands, gestures and eye movements.

      Psssh. That's nothing new. New Yorkers have been navigating that way for decades.

  • by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @05:04PM (#30756188) Journal

    'What better flourish to a career that began with the popularisation of windows, icons, mouse and pointer than to usurp them all?'"

    Eye tracking technology doesn't usurp ANY of that. If anything, eyetracking technology makes windows and icons more useful, since those are designed to hold your attention for the short span that you need them.

    And don't think that this technology would ever replace the mouse. You need a mouse for gaming, amongst many things. One such annoying technology around today is rollover ads. Our eyes often make tiny glances at colours and items that grab our attention.

    Point is, they aren't changing the existing system, merely adding onto it.

    • And don't think that this technology would ever replace the mouse. You need a mouse for gaming, amongst many things

      But touch screens are, in some markets. And aren't there better input devices for gaming? Accelerometers work pretty well for some things.

    • by tool462 (677306)

      'One such annoying technology around today is rollover ads. Our eyes often make tiny glances at colours and items that grab our attention.

      Maybe they plan to take AdSense to the next level. You can now set ad billing based on how long someone is actually looking at an ad.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Princeofcups (150855)

      And don't think that this technology would ever replace the mouse.

      You never played Doom did you? I believe the quote was that no one would use a mouse because using the keyboard is so much better. Games adapt to the input devices available to them, and the mouse, at some point will be history. Don't say never. It's never true. :-)

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        I don't disagree the mouse will disappear, just that Eye-tracking won't be the thing to do it. I believe Multi-touch will be, go google some of Jeff Hans videos (or look it up on TED.com) and you will see some amazing applicatons he's made with Touch Screens, or even sophistaced smart boards and projection techniques using relatively affordable hardware.

        I just watched this [ted.com] and I agree - even the keyboard will probably be phased out once accurate Touch screen technology gets better amongst the big players. T

        • I think ultimately by the time I reach 80, some of the tech in Minority Report should be existant.

          Hell, most of it is here now. Unless you're in your 70s, I'd expect it to be obsolete by the time you're 80.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by maxume (22995)

          Those screens are great, but they depend on having an IR camera pointed at the whole back of the screen, which means that they aren't getting thin very fast.

      • The absolute coolest use for this in games would have to be video game characters (especially enemies) that know when you're looking at them, and when you're not...
    • They're going to have flashy, blinkey, animated ads that follow your eye movements, making sure you can't take your eyes off of them without looking away from the screen.

      I hope the make it so you can shut the eye tracking down. As to the mouse, I can see an eye-controlled cursor in the future. I, for one, would be happy to have the mouse replaced; I get "mouse elbow" if I'm at the computer too long.

      • Yes but the mouse does offer some things that an eye-controlled cursor would not, for example, if I'm playing Duke Nukem Forever and I want to be able to turn left (usually just moving my mouse left) WHILE looking at my health (bottom right of the screen).

        But I could easily see a look and blink interface replacing the mouse for simple things like Web Browsing. But if I'm working on a spreadsheet, I need to be able to objectively look at the entire entire table. If I want to highlight the entire table, I don

        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          Well, yes, different applications require different input devices. I wish word application developers would realize this; in word processors you're primarily using the keyboard. In a spreadsheet you're primarily using the numeric keypad. In a game or drawing program you're using the mouse. I get "mouse elbow" from moving my right hand back and forth from the mouse to the keyboard. I wish they'd make better use of the function keys; with many apps, F1 is the only function key that does anything. I also wish

    • by Nos. (179609)

      Point is, they aren't changing the existing system, merely adding onto it.

      Exactly, if nothing else this becomes an accessibility option for people who can't use traditional devices. There are numerous conditions that would prevent people from using a mouse and/or keyboard, where accurate useable eyetracking could help out a lot. As a father of two boys with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, anything that can help them remain interactive longer is great.

    • You can track where the eyes are looking (i.e. the intersection of the eye gaze direction with the surface of the screen), but this typically involves a lot of calibration, and often more than one camera, just to make it reliable. Even if it's reliable, it's horrible to use - they have these on display at conventions all the time, and they're generally used for checking if advertising works. The other is to track the position of eyes in an image and a rough direction of where they're looking. You can then
    • by babyrat (314371)

      You need a mouse for gaming, amongst many things.

      Because obviously there are no games that don't require a mouse.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bill_mcgonigle (4333) *

      Point is, they aren't changing the existing system, merely adding onto it.

      Right, I think I've posted here before wishing for a system that allows you to switch window focus with eye tracking - especially useful in a multi-monitor setup (I always get hosed up with that).

      But $7500 gear isn't the way to do this. Stereo cheap-ass CMOS 'webcam' sensors on the sides of the monitor and a whole bunch of GPU number crunching should do the work just fine (and also get us video conferencing where you can look at the

  • Bikini Team.

  • Not Apple-like (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Darkness404 (1287218) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @05:05PM (#30756206)
    I don't really think that Apple will use eye tracking... yet. Why? Because there aren't enough existing products out there. The vast majority of Apple's products show up when there are 1 or 2 other early products out there that Apple can improve on. Eye-tracking isn't used in any major way yet and so I don't think Apple will use it quite yet.
    • The iPhone has multi-gesture apps because Apple first came to the broad market with such a device. People will build software to what hardware manufacturers make popular, ont the other way around.
      • Yes, Apple may be first in the broad market, but there has been multi-touch for a very long time in many electronics, but generally it faded out by the start of the '90s. On the other hand, eye tracking isn't used hardly at all, in anything. Basically, Apple revived dead technology (Captive touchscreens and multi-touch) to make their phone.
        • by JAlexoi (1085785)
          Wa, wa... wait! Doesn't Stephen Hawking "speak" using eye gestures? Or something similar....
    • by fermion (181285)
      I agree. There were tons of software programmable microcomputers with simple hardware interfaces when the Apple came out. There were absolutely tons of WIMP based computers around when the Mac came out. There were tons of digital media players that used high capacity microdrives rather than the then low capacity flash drives. And of course toms of phones that were connected to app stores and music not controlled by the telco. And of course we do have tons of tablet PCs, so Apple is going to have to do so
      • by mdwh2 (535323)

        Not tons, but the OP didn't claim that.

        There were tons of digital media players that used high capacity microdrives rather than the then low capacity flash drives.

        "Less space than a nomad" - I thought there were pre-existing mp3 players that had the same capacity or more?

        And of course toms of phones that were connected to app stores and music not controlled by the telco.

        I'm not sure how controlled by Apple is any better, especially when you can only download from that store, where as every other platform yo

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Having invented the home computer, the mouse, the GUI, the portable music player, the multitouch screen, the Unix kernel and the mobile telephone, Apple now invents eye tracking. Pay no attention to those Swedish guys in the corner and put your hands together for yet another amazing Apple innovation, personally created by Steve Jobs, the smartest man in the world. Thank you Steve!! I love you!! Please, take some more of my money.
  • by clone53421 (1310749) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @05:09PM (#30756248) Journal

    There are two main problems with eye tracking. First, your eyes are always moving. Second, they’re attracted to motion.

    Eye tracking, done correctly, would have to avoid both of these pitfalls. It would be possible, but tricky. It would have to differentiate between the constant motion of your eyes and deliberate motions that you wanted to make, or at least not be adversely affected by all of their unconscious movements. It would also need to avoid causing movement or changes on the screen that would draw your attention away from what you intended to look at.

    For instance, if a normal cursor was displayed at the detected position of your gaze, it would (A) obscure, (B) distract, and (C) float irritatingly away from your gaze if its positioning was even slightly miscalibrated.

    • by aicrules (819392)
      And then try clicking on an icon with just your eyes. Do you just stare at it harder? Wink your left eye? I'm sure the actual implementation of an eyes-only input would not just try to replace a mouse cursor with gaze positioning, but it's already difficult enough to just track eye position for this sort of application, let alone figure out intent.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by symes (835608)
      This is very true - however our eye gaze is also attracted to things we find interesting. An interface that had that information could easily rearrange itself based upon where we were looking. For example, you could imagine a 4 by 4 grid, each cell linked to some app or document. the size of each cell would be in proportion to the time spent gazing at it... and as cell size increases different components/layers of information for each cell becomes visible. I'm sure the people of Apple could come up with som
      • the size of each cell would be in proportion to the time spent gazing at it... and as cell size increases different components/layers of information for each cell becomes visible

        So basically, a glorified Dock (zoom the focus)...

        or the Ribbon (drill-down the selection)...

        Although in theory that sounds neat and useful, in practice it might just end up being annoying. It’s hard to say. It hasn’t really been a highlight of either the Dock or the Ribbon.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by querist (97166)

      To respond to your second point, and to agree with it...

      SQUIRREL!

      (If you don't get it, see the movie "Up!")

    • "Clicking" could be done by blinking twice, or blinking slowly.

      Calibration could be fine-tuned on-the-fly by assuming the user is looking at the center of buttons or links he's "clicking" (for ones with large hit areas, it could skip adjustment). I wouldn't be surprised if this idea were patented already, given that it's obvious.

      • I wouldn't be surprised if this idea were patented already, given that it's obvious.

        Given that it’s obvious, it can’t be patented... not that this would stop anyone.

        Even so, the concept of the mouse pointer would have to be completely rethought. Anything opaque would be in the way, and anything transparent would gradually fade away [ggpht.com]... a pulsating glow might work, but there would be a fine line between noticeable and annoying.

    • I can imagine how the pointer moving ever so slightly away from where you are looking causes you to try to move your focus to where the cursor now is causing a cascading effect of chasing the cursor that is just out of focus and moving. It will eventually cause us all to have spastic eye movements constantly circling the page. That will be fun!
    • It would be possible, but tricky.

      Maybe they could hire back some of the control hysteresis experts they fired from the ATG group before writing OSX. System 7 really got these things right.

  • It always seemed to me that the greatest benefit of tracking the position / geometry of a user's eyes would be for determining their focal point. The user will look at your information directly if it's needed, but if it was always in focus they will be less fatigued by constantly changing focal points. In handheld devices this would allow you to glance at your phone by bringing into your field of view without having to take your focus off the road / sidewalk. Refining the technology enough that people could
  • by royallthefourth (1564389) <royallthefourth@gmail.com> on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @05:18PM (#30756354)
    I hate it when I look at a field and start typing only to find out that something else has focus. This happens to me in every GUI I've ever used and if a webcam with gaze vectoring can fix that I'd really like it.
    • I don't see how it would fix that (for most anyway) when if anything it's more likely to mess up as your eyes end up distracted elsewhere, anyone that can touch type won't necessarily be staring at the box as they type, and anyone that can't will be staring at the keys.

      • Yes but you'll stare at the text box when you start typing the first character into it, to be sure the cursor is blinking there. Once you're typing, it could suspend gaze-initiated focus changes until you stop typing for a bit.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @05:32PM (#30756566)

      Yeah, clearly something stole the focus and changed your font to retarded.

      • Wow. This has to be the best AC post that I've ever seen.
        Mind if I steal this and use it elsewhere on the site?
    • by Blakey Rat (99501)

      You *always* look at the text box while you're typing?

      Man, my text would be flying all over the place with that setup. IM pops up, I keep typing in Word while I read the IM, suddenly I'm confusing my friend with big words and my dissertation contains the phrase "'sup bud?"

  • by Tetsujin (103070) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @05:20PM (#30756394) Homepage Journal

    I mean, what else would you do with Swedish Eye-Tracking technology? Track Swedish Eyes, obviously...

  • If they eye tracking tech interoperats with the built-in web camera so the device sees what you see (not just want part of the device screen you are looking at) this could be used to delivery data about whatever your are seeing. It could also be used to deliver targeted advertising.
  • They're going to build an ebook reader app for their rumored tablet to kill the kindle & dominate the market. as Ramanujan once said for a famous one line proof, "Behold."

  • Videoconferencing (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dracker (1323355) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @05:28PM (#30756504)
    One of the big challenges in videoconferencing is the illusion that the subject, who is looking at your face on the screen, appears as if he or she isn't making eye contact with you, as the camera is not located in the middle of the screen. While this may seem minor at first glance (ha ha), it's actually a pretty important issue in videoconferencing, with significant demand for software that corrects it.

    A "gaze vector" is exactly the kind of information software would need to "correct" the illusion, to make it seem like the subject does have eye contact. I bet Apple is going to incorporate eye contact correction tech for videoconferencing in its products.
    • by sznupi (719324) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @05:50PM (#30756800) Homepage

      There was a story some time ago about Apple patenting small, "hidden" in the screen cameras as a means of correcting eye contact issue that exists currently in videoconferences.

      Which really strikes me as another example of why patent system is badly broken in the US. Even I toyed some time ago with an idea of using small sensor / optical arrangement that minimizes size of the "camera", visible obstruction, so it can be placed in front of the screen without being too irritating. Hiding it between the pixels of LCD screen, when you have good enough manufacturing, seems to be just...a straightforward progression.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Hiding it between the pixels of LCD screen, when you have good enough manufacturing, seems to be
        just...a straightforward progression.

        Well, yeah, if you over-simplify any given proposal ("Make a camera small enough to fit between the pixels on a screen!") anything can seem like a straightforward progression. "Once a CPU is powerful enough, making an android is a straightforward progression!"

      • Patenting the concept of putting a camera behind or infront of a screen is obvious and should not be allowed. Patenting a particular "how to" is reasonable.
    • Can't you solve this just with an optics dealigned wrt the camera CCD?
      This is the way used, for instance, to get buildings straight while they are imaged from a point where obviously the perspetive would deform them entierely...
      I think it is called 'axial correction' or something alike in ordinary photo, see for instance http://www.mir.com.my/rb/photography/hardwares/classics/olympusom1n2/shared/zuiko/htmls/35mmSHIFT.htm [mir.com.my] , by the middle of the page you get impressive examples...
      (of course this is an hardwar

      • by profplump (309017)

        You can correct perspective with a shift lens -- that is, you can keep parallel lines from converging. But it doesn't change the angle of observation; since the camera is still not in-line with a person's face they still won't be looking into the captured image.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @05:36PM (#30756624)

    Full disclosure: I am a vision researcher who has worked with most of the available eyetracking systems on the market.

    I had not heard of the company, and a quick look at their product line tells me why not: their standalone systems are limited to 60hz/120hz depending on the model - this was good several years ago, but has been considerably eclipsed by other companies' designs (e.g. S-R Research's Eyelink hardware, which happily does 2000hz monocular tracking). It looks on par with ASL's Eye-trac gear, which has similar limitations.

    I would bet that Apple just bought a few of their systems to use in internal testing - I sincerely doubt that anyone there is using such slow gear for major research.

  • Canon had eye tracking in their A2E Film SLR camera 18 years ago - how is this different? Would the A2E count as prior art?
  • An eye for an i.
  • insensitive clods! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by xch13fx (1463819)
    I have a lazy eye =(
  • Will be the shout of everyone trying to read a document and having the cursor automatically and constantly position itself right in the center of your vision. You be begging for the mouse to get that out of your way.
  • What the fuck are YOU looking at?

  • So these days, in order for Steve Jobs to to market effectively, he needs to. . .

    1. Sit down and really think before jumping.
    2. Repackage old technology with sensible user interfaces and thus change the world.
    3. Do nothing new for a few years.
    4. Announce nothing.
    5. Let the world speculate with wet-dream anticipation until it infects even a decidedly biased anti-Mac forum like Slashdot.
    6. Do nothing.
    7. Do more nothing.
    8. Release some more old technology with a sensible user interface and make everybody orgas

    • by Alzdran (950149)

      Maybe if your definition of pod-people means non-technologists, or even technologists who stick within a realm of expertise.

      The "sensible user interface" of your post is what allows people to see what the technology can do; those people who don't have the time and/or inclination to spend so much time with technology that could be made to do something cool if you first (a) figured out what that is and (b) made it a reality.

      What took phones so long? If the iPhone simply represents a "sensible user interface"

  • With eye-tracking, you can do away with the painful auto-scrolling on mobile/PDA eBook reader software and just have the page advance when (or a few seconds after) your eye gets to the last line of the page...
  • I have nystagmus [wikipedia.org], which means that my eyes constantly wiggle though I perceive an unmoving image. I bet that an onscreen pointer calculated by my gaze vector would be in constant motion and therefore unusable or at least very difficult for me.

    I say this not in complaint, merely in observation. I'm sure this won't be adopted in the near future, and who knows if it will catch on once it's developed? But as someone who never before had to concern himself with being physically able to access things, it is an

    • by Carnildo (712617)

      I have nystagmus, which means that my eyes constantly wiggle though I perceive an unmoving image. I bet that an onscreen pointer calculated by my gaze vector would be in constant motion and therefore unusable or at least very difficult for me.

      Everybody's eyes wiggle. Yours just wiggle more than most. It's why nobody who's done serious research on the subject expects eye tracking to replace the mouse.

  • eye-tracking linked with auto scrolling would be nice. as well as zooming (which would finally rid us of this multi-touch nonsense!)


    Just that a. Apple doesn't really know how to do it right (they may have an idea, but will fail), and the hardware is still not there...
  • I can't wait for the pop-up ads that follow your eyes around.
  • If Apple was seriously interested in this company's tech, they'd have purchased the company and not a couple of units. I'd say a much more reasonable explanation is that Apple has has a Human Factors Engineering lab where they'd like to track where people are looking when using their products, so they can better place things like menus, icons, and buttons.
  • I'm sure we all remember this demonstration from a couple of years ago using Wiimote hacking:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jd3-eiid-Uw [youtube.com]

    Get rid of the clunky IR hardware, track eye movement directly, and you've got the kind of potential for desktop sexiness that only The Steve could bring us.

  • Jobs' was selling personal computers for 6-7 years before WIMP, for 5-6 years before the IBM PC. And since WIMP the object-oriented NeXT tools were used by Tim Berners-Lee to create the World Wide Web, and there was this thing called the iPod which had a whole generation named after it. And after that came a multitouch phone you might have heard of, with both an iPod and a Mac in it. Jobs doesn't need to look for a follow-up to bringing WIMP to consumers.

    And the Apple tablet doesn't need eye-tracking to be

  • Even if the technology is perfected, there are some interesting privacy issues. People don't have complete conscious control of their eyes, and where someone looks at an image can reveal information that they might wish kept private. Are you looking at the cute girl in the picture- or the cute guy? Are you looking at the image of the fancy car - maybe you should get a targeted add. Related technology may be able to read something about your facial expression.

    I'm not necessarily opposed to the technology, bu

  • I can see this being useful in addition to a mouse/trackpad. Quite often I'll be working with a lot of windows or clickable content on the screen and I can look at the widget I want to click on faster than I can get my cursor over to it. I'd want to be able to turn it off quickly though.

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