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In a blink of an eye

Person with voice and movement disabilities can now use their eye tracking device to operate a television. Image credit: Comcast

There are many persons that cannot use their senses, and movement, to interact with the environment and with devices that in most cases have been designed to interact with people with normal abilities.  The use of computers, sensors and software has made possible in the last twenty years to develop alternative ways of interaction, suitable to people that have a more limited slate of interacting capabilities. Think about the use of text to speech to make books readable by people with impaired vision or voice recognition to let people with movement disabilities to interact with a device.

What is interesting to notice is that as these “alternatives” took hold they started to be used also by people with no specific impairments. Today the latest television models, car navigators and even home appliances accept voice commands (my television accepts ONLY voice commands). The effort focused on facilitating interaction for people with disabilities over time becomes adopted by everybody.

It is under this perspective that I read the news on several tech magazines (like Wired, The Verge…) about Comcast release of a web application to pair with a device that can follow the eyes movement and match that with a specific point on the television screen. A person just by looking at the television and at a particular object on the screen, then blinking his eyes sends virtual “click” on that object.

Tracking eye movement is nothing new, there are several applications that can do that, what is new is the release of a pairing mechanism bringing this interaction mechanism to a mass market appliance.

Notice that eye tracking (sensors and applications) are not -yet- as accurate as our brain is in tracking the eye movements of our fellows. We have an amazing capabilities of detecting where a person is looking even a fraction of a degree in eye position is processed by our brain to give a precise indication of where that person is looking. I am quite sure that in the coming years eye tracking will become better and better (possibly taking advantage of a general understanding of the context) and it may become part of several objects transforming the way we interact with them.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.