The ability to control a computer with your eyes may seem like something straight from science fiction, but that functionality is getting closer to reality. This week, Tobii Technology showed off a prototype ultrabook that will become the first in its category to come with a built-in eye tracker.
After announcing its partnership with Synaptics for the project earlier this year, Tobii demonstrated its working prototype at this year’s CES Unveiled. The laptop comes with an eye tracker similar to its Rex, which impressed us at last year’s CES with its responsive eye detection capabilities. The prototype features an eye tracker built into the clamshell’s hinge between the display and the keyboard, which is typically where the Rex peripheral sits when it's attached to a laptop.
The device we saw wasn’t entirely functional, but we were able to interact with the Windows 8 interface through the eye tracking tool. We activated icons on the desktop by simply looking at them and controlled the cursor with our eyes rather than the touchpad. For instance, we learned more about the forecast in New York City by looking at a weather icon on our desktop. When staring at an icon with the Apple’s stock ticker, we saw more information about how the company’s stock prices have fluctuated recently. The icons unfolded as we gazed at them and then returned to normal when we looked elsewhere on the screen.
While the technology was notable, there were some instances in which the eye tracker misinterpreted our movements. We tried to open Internet Explorer by looking at the tile on the Windows 8 modern UI, but we accidentally launched the photo gallery. In other scenarios, however, we found it easier to scroll through Web pages by looking up and down rather than maneuvering our cursor over to the scroll bar.
However, we began to feel slightly strained when selecting multiple links in a row. Our eyes darted around the screen as we opened one menu after another, and in another instance we stared at an icon for multiple seconds before the app responded.
Eye tracking, like other types of perceptual computing, is meant to enhance the ways we interact with computers rather than eliminating other forms of input. The eye tracker isn’t intended to replace the mouse or keyboard, but instead should work with them. For example, we selected a link by looking at it and pressing a button on the keyboard, which was quicker than having to move the mouse over to the desired link.
Tobii’s technology is just one implementation of perceptual computing that will be built directly into laptops in the near future. Leap Motion recently teamed up with HP to launch the first laptop with gesture detection, the HP Envy 17. Creative Labs and Intel also have plans to put its motion-enabled Senz3D camera directly into notebooks as well.
Despite the slight bugs, we’re excited about the potential for Tobii’s eye tracking technology. The company doesn’t have any information about pricing and hasn’t revealed who its hardware partners will be. The notebook is expected to launch sometime in 2014.