Of all the new user interface possibilities that are out there, eye-tracking is one of the most intriguing. Yes, it’s a bit creepy – where you look can say a lot – but it also holds great promise for those with physical impairments and can make reading on mobile devices a bit easier, as shown in Samsung’s Galaxy S4.
One of the leading companies in this space is Sweden’s Tobii, which has been around for a good dozen years and took a hefty $21 million funding round in 2012, led by Intel – a firm that’s always on the lookout for new user interface technologies. On Wednesday, Tobii said it would launch a developer kit early next year that will make it much easier to build applications that use eye-tracking for scrolling or what-have-you.
These could be games or other sorts of apps, but they will all be based around tech included in Tobii’s advanced EyeX Controller and EyeX middleware, which along with a new software development kit (SDK) constitute the $195 developer package.
The EyeX controller is the successor to an earlier effort called the Tobii Rex. Like that device, the EyeX is a USB-connected bar that includes a multitude of sensors for finding and tracking eye movements – from looking one way or another to blinking to pupil dilation. (Obviously, Tobii’s main thrust is in working with manufacturers to integrate this technology into their devices, rather than pushing the EyeX Controller as a consumer device.)
Tobii reckons there are many uses out there: accessibility for those with disabilities; interfacing with computers in specialist environments, such as hospitals, where traditional UI methods bring hygiene problems; and also in cars and trucks, where checking for signs of tiredness can be a lifesaver. And then there’s the marketing potential.
Of course, it’s not necessarily a matter of just using eye-tracking as an interface method; the clever stuff comes when you mix it with other kinds of interaction, such as voice. Anyhow, real-world use cases will come from the developers playing around with possibilities, and at $195 — way cheaper than the $995 Rex dev kit, although that’s now discounted to $295 – the EyeX kit looks like an excellent way to start. Pre-orders are open now, and the kit will ship in March.