Stephen Hawking playing Angry Birds or Fruita Ninja on a tablet? Do you know what could make that happen? The reputed savant can’t move, as we well know. He can only move his eyes. Eye-controlled gadgets – the solution. The interaction between humans and technology could get even more “personal”. We’re using little wonders as Siri to understand our speech, not to talk about touch screens, where we’d be dead without our fingers.
The first thing that popped into my mind when I thought about eye control technology was this – “This will make people even lazier than they were before!”. This is one of the biggest drawbacks for sitting in front of the computer, for example. You tend to forget what time it is and you’re not doing any exercise at all. But then again, who wants to stay in shape can do it freely, nobody’s stopping him. In fact, we’ve written about some fitness apps, you might check them out.
Samsung Galaxy S3: pioneer in eye-tracking
While we’re here talking about this “future” technology, you’re probably not realizing that this technology is already present in some recent gadgets. And I’m not talking about so no-name. No, I’m talking about the mighty Samsung Galaxy S3. The phone that managed to surpass the iPhone 4S in sales and making us think that the iPhone might lose its supremacy has a lot of features and accessories to impress its wanna-be owners. And one of them is the SmartStay feature.
To put it at shortly as possible, the SmartStay feature maintains a bright display as long as you’re looking at it, thus, it’s following your eye movement. What’s interesting is that a few Android developers have managed to create an application that is said to do the same thing to any Android phone with a front facing camera, so this means that this is more of a software tweak, than hardware. Nonetheless, it’s the first commercial product with a huge success to embed such technology inside.
Moving to tablets and eReaders?
Personally, I’d love to see such a feature in eReaders, for example. Imagine sitting comfortable in your bed and reading a very entertaining novel. Flipping pages of a book, even if it’s an eBook, is definitely a pleasure for some, but what if you could flip the pages just by looking at them? I still don’t know how would that be possible (I imagine many accidents will happen, since the eye-tracking technology could think you want to flip, when you actually are just reading) but I’m sure they’ll find a workaround.
But we’re forgetting something here: who’ll really need this technology or it’s just nothing more but a fad? Eye-tracking technology will help those that really need this – people with disabilities who can’t or, sadly, don’t have arms at all. It’s hard to tell how many people suffer from this, but you’re probably seen enough unwell persons that would also love to play AngryBirds, read, interact with the latest gadgets, just like you do. I can only imagine how much joy and relief such a technology would bring to them.
Bold start-up from Denmark
One company that seems to have understood the need for eye-controlled gadgets is GazeGroup from Denmark. They want to develop the eye-controlled gadgets niche and why not, to make it affordable for regular users to buy such devices. Here’s what Sune Alstrup Johansen thinks about it:
If you look at the rest of the world, a lot of people don’t have access to these expensive eye trackers. After a while, we figured out that probably the best way is to go for a mass-market approach, where everybody would have this available.
That’s why Johansen and some of his colleagues have created TheEyeTribe (formerly known as SensEye), a small start-up which has the noble mission of making eye-controlled mobile devices accessible for everybody. Here’s a small video to let you know what they’re talking about:
Now you get it how Stephen Hawking could end up playing Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja on his tablet? And I’m already thinking about an appropiate name for such a tablet – “EyePad“. Coupled with some voice controls, one such tablet would be a real wonder for persons with disabilities. The product that has been demo-ed on video is called the EyeDock and, of course, is a prototype. But make no mistake, there are other companies that are investigating how they could come up with some commercially ready products. And that’s good, because competition always helps in shaping up a market.
There is already a company that one could perceive as the leader of this yet tiny market – Tobii. Until now, the company has managed to achieve the following:
- First eye controlled arcade game in the world
- Advanced drive assistance software
- Eye-tracking enabled laptops
There are many challenges with this industry and price is definitely the biggest one. There is a lot of research and only a few players in the market which keeps prices at a high level. We need more bold start-ups to get the media’s attention (which we’re trying to do right now) which should definitely boost up this technology. Just like it happened with 3D printing.