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Danes invest US$4.4 million in eye-control system for tablets, smartphones

The first commercial products are expected to arrive within a year

Danish company The Eye Tribe is leading a new project that will make it possible to control smartphones and tablets using eye movements.

The three-year project is called "Eye Tracking for mobile devices" and toy maker Lego Systems is taking part, along with game developer Serious Games Interactive, the IT University of Copenhagen and the Technical University of Denmark.

The Eye Tribe was founded last year by four former PhD students from the IT University of Copenhagen, all of which had previously been working on various forms of eye tracking research and applications.

"We are coming from a desktop environment, using it on PCs and we have a laptop version, as well. What we want to do now is go for the mobile space, because the potential is huge," company CEO Sune Alstrup Johansen said.

Users will be able to scroll down Web pages, zoom in to view a location on a map more closely or play games without having to touch the screen. The Eye Tribe has implemented a version of the game Fruit Ninja where fruits are sliced when a player looks at them.

"These are some of the very basic things we can do, but, of course, we are aiming to do much more in the future and that is what the project will help us achieve," Alstrup Johansen said.

The technology uses an infrared light source and a camera to register eye movements.

Implementing eye tracking on tablets and smartphones is much more challenging compared to PCs, because users are outside and on the move, according to Alstrup Johansen. Tablets will be the first step because of the bigger form factor and smartphones will come next, he said.

The growing size of high-end smartphones should work to its advantage.

Even if there are challenges, Alstrup Johansen expects to see the first commercial products within a year, potentially both smartphones and tablets.

"We have already done experiments on tablets and have a prototype to demonstrate that it works. Now we need to make the technology even more robust, and more tolerant to different scenarios including outdoor use," Alstrup Johansen said.

The project will also work on a smart glasses implementation, which will allow users to look at an object and get more information.

The "Eye Tracking for mobile devices" project's 25 million Danish kroner (US$4.4 million) comes from the participants and the Danish National Advanced Technology Foundation, which uses government money to "offer private companies and universities the funds and the framework for developing new and important technologies," according to its website.

The Eye Tribe's current technology is a promising beginning and the foundation now hopes its funds will be used to accelerate the development of it, according to Thomas Bjerre, communications manager and head of analysis.

The project is expected to start in about 60 days, Bjerre said.

Send news tips and comments to mikael_ricknas@idg.com


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