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CES 2012: Eyes-on With Tobii's Windows 8 Eye-tracking Interface

By Matthew Braga

Eye-tracking is a novel idea. You can even play piano with your eyes. But gaze interaction has more than its fair share of quirks.

It seems like everyone is talking about Tobii at this year's CES, and for good reason. The Stockholm-based company has been working in the eye-tracking and eye-control field for over a decade now, and they're bringing their gaze interaction technology to Windows 8.

Interacting via touch isn't all the different from sight, explained a company representative, which is why Tobii's technology is so well suited to WIndows 8—in theory, that is. Eye-tracking is a novel idea, but there were definitely quirks.

Tobii refers to its brand of eye-tracking as gaze interaction, which quite literally allows the user to interact with a screen based on the movement of his or her eyes. Following a brief calibration period—you follow a pulsing circle move between corners of the screeen—the gaze sensor is able to track moment using a user's eyeball like a virtual mouse.

In one demo, we were able to "click" by hovering our eye-cursor over the intended target, as if using an Xbox Kinect. In another, glancing at different parts of a CAD mockup would zoom in on the intended part of the design. Still, there are quirks. The tracking itself, while fairly accurate when interacting with a large Metro-style interface—such as found in Windows 8—is less effective when attempting to click on smaller elements. We attempted to "play" a piano with our eyes, for example, but found our eyes would often land on the key to the left or right of what we had intended.

Surprisingly, the real "wow" moment came while doing a fairly menial task. The sensor was able to track the movement of user's eyes across paragraphs of text, and automatically scroll to keep new text in the center of the screen. It was perhaps the most practical demo of the Gaze technology we saw, and it's clear why the company is such a hit amongst the disabled community.

As for you budding eyeball pianists, it's best you abandon those dreams for now.