“Your eyes are full of language”, said American poet Anne Sexton, and much truth rings in these words. It is no wonder that eye tracking technology is becoming the latest fad in the tech world. Eye tracking technology deals with the measurement of point of gaze or motion of the human eye and is used in research on the visual system, in psychology, in cognitive linguistics and in product design.
Eye tracking measures activities of the eye. This measurement can be the point where the eyes are looking at, called the point of gaze, or it can be the relative motion of the eye with respect to the head. This movement of the eye is measured using a device known as the Eye Tracker. The eye tracker uses projection patterns and optical sensors to gather data about gaze direction or eye movements with very high accuracy. It incorporates illumination, sensors and processing to track eye movements and gaze.
There are many features that can be used as a measure for eye activity. Some of these include:
- Gaze direction and gaze point
- Eye presence detection
- Eye position
- Eyelid closure
- Eye movement and patterns
- Pupil size and pupil dilation
The movement of the eye is dependent on the intention of an individual, the task that he/she has at hand and also on the objects in the image in view. Thus eye tracking has numerous applications in the field of psychology as the movement of eye can be reverse engineered to get the condition of the mind.
A wide variety of disciplines use eye tracking techniques, including cognitive science, psychology, human-computer interaction, marketing research, Gaming and medical research. Specific applications include the tracking eye movement in language reading, music reading, human activity recognition, the perception of advertising, and the playing of sport.
Analysis of eye-tracking patents
Around 3000 patents/Applications have been published in the eye tracking domain. 13 % of the patents describe a method/ software/ algorithm/ apparatus for eye tracking. These describe basic or advanced methods of eye tracking. 25 % of the patents are related to medical field and are specific to eye disease diagnosis, treatment and psychology. Psychological patents are related to studying an individual’s state of mind and his/her cognitive nature based on tracking eye movements. Other 25% of patents are related to gaming, imaging, Virtual Reality and visual behavior analysis. Visual behavior analysis by tracking eye movements is the best solution for evaluating web pages, promotions, email campaigns or online advertising as it measures consumer engagement.
Another 30% of these patents are related to electronic equipment that have additional functionalities, including eye tracking apparatus/software. These equipment include display devices with controlled lighting and glare, information display, entertainment stimulus and modifying/navigating UI by using eye tracking methods. Even patents describing portable devices such as wearable optics, head mounted devices, Smartphones/tablets in which eye tracking is incorporated to perform multiple tasks also come under this set.
Who’s tracking the best?
In terms of intellectual property, the top players in the domain of eye-tracking are Microsoft, Sony, IBM, Canon, SeeReal and Carl Zeiss. Recently Microsoft doubled their eye-tracking IP assets by acquiring a trove of patents from Osterhout Design Group, a longtime US military contractor, which produces wearable eye tracking gadgets (similar to Google Glass) for Military purposes. Osterhout’s patents cover products similar to Google Glass, potentially setting the stage for a future IP battlefield. Further, in terms of medical imaging, Canon and Carl Zeiss are the major players. One of the other major players in eye-tracking is Lexos Media. Lexos Media patents are relevant for smartphones, advertising and gaming industry. With industry leaders like Samsung already providing eye-tracking based smartphones such as Samsung S3 and S4, Lexos Media will act as a major innovator in the field of displaying contents leveraging the eye-tracking technology in next generation portable devices.
Tracking the future
The focus, over the recent years were termed to be more on Brain Machine Interfaces (BMI) which allows the user to directly control the machines by just ‘thinking’ about the command. They use specific electrodes placed near the brain which pick up the brain waves to understand the command. Unfortunately a cost effective and user friendly way doesn’t seem to be flourishing so well in the recent times. On the contrary, the situation with regard to eye tracking is a different story. With all the leading electronic companies burning truckloads of cash for research in this field, the future seems very bright in the near times itself. Hands-free scrolling through a webpage or turning pages of an e-book is certainly a convenience, but the real advantage to using the eyes for control, is speed. The iBeam tablet from NTT DoCoMo, assures full eye control using dual integrated front-facing cameras, SenseEye by Utechzone an eye tracking hardware that can very efficiently control the sword of Fruit Ninja, the popular Android touch based game, and all these advances stand witness to the flourishing technology.
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