Opinions surrounding the Windows 8 Modern UI interface may vary but most agree that using a touchscreen as a replacement for a desktop or laptop monitor can be awkward and tiring.
Tobii’s Gaze interaction is a system designed to be used with a specialized eye-tracking device, the Tobii REX. The Tobii REX uses technologies such as high speed cameras and infrared illumination to very accurately pinpoint where a user’s attention is focused on the screen. The REX is a small strip that connects like any other USB device and adheres to the base of any PC monitor. When Gaze is paired with the REX the user’s attention is tracked and displayed as an indicator on the screen — but don’t throw away your trackpads and mice yet — it’s still up to the user to fine tune the attention point and decide when to activate a command or a click. This might sound cumbersome, but in reality the combination of attention tracking and small mouse movements is easy to use, intuitive and seemingly perfectly suited to the Windows 8 Modern UI desktop and laptop scenarios.
While consumer pricing and availability haven’t been announced, Tobii plans to offer 5,000 units to consumers before the end of 2013 and is already offering a special edition intended for developers. While the $995 price tag on the developer edition may seem daunting, it places this system well below other dedicated eye-tracking hardware solutions which can start at upwards of $3,000. Similar software can be used in conjunction with off-the-shelf webcams; however webcam-based eye detection is not nearly as accurate, making it a frustrating rather than enjoyable experience.
The problem is that webcams don’t have specific features essential to eye-tracking. For instance, most webcams capture pupil movement at between 5 and 30 frames per second, that’s less than half the rate that humans are able to perceive. Devices like the REX on the other hand, are able to capture hundreds of frames per second — think humming bird speed. Other issues arise due to insufficient lighting and movement of the user. In short, webcam-based eye-tracking doesn’t provide a realistic alternative to using a mouse, trackpad or touchscreen.
The landscape is changing, both for devices and for operating systems; it’s clear that the way we interact with desktops and laptops must change as well. Innovative user interfaces such as the Windows 8 Modern UI open the door for innovative hardware solutions. Will we abandon our mice and trackpads to poke and swipe at touchscreens? Perhaps we’ll all be gesturing like magicians in the air above our keyboards. Or will the future find us sitting motionless while our eyes do all the heavy lifting? One thing’s for certain: it’s going to be an interesting year for pointing and clicking. Check out the video below to see Tobii’s Gaze in action and decide for yourself.