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Infrared eye-tracking tech makes for a surprisingly accurate tablet interface

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i beam eye tracking
i beam eye tracking

One of the more impressive tech demos we saw today belonged to a prototype tablet from Fujitsu that can be controlled with nothing more than the user’s eyesight. I Beam uses an infrared LED and camera setup to triangulate the user’s viewing angle, determining where the cursor ought to be placed onscreen. After a quick 30-second calibration, we found the controls to be surprisingly accurate, although keeping our eyes trained on a particular location was a little more difficult than we had expected.

A long stare is the equivalent of a mouse click

At CEATEC’s NTT Docomo booth, representatives walked us through several applications written to show off the prototype hardware, including a balloon popping game, a web browser, an image gallery app, and an ebook reader. The biggest challenge we found was keeping our eyes from scanning around the screen, which could have adverse affects like accidentally looking up the meaning to a word we weren’t interested in, or exploding deadly bombs in the aforementioned game. While this (predictably) made the Android tablet's browser software clunky to use, the gallery app solved the UI problem by breaking it down into smaller chunks — first you select a photo from a grid, then stare at the viewing area to confirm your selection.

At the Fujitsu booth the company was also showing off a desktop computer outfitted with vision-based controls. We doubted how easy it would be to control a dense desktop operating system using just our eyesight, but the company showed us one possible application using vision controls to pan around Google Maps.

When we asked about a target market, Docomo said that it isn’t specifically thinking about people that have difficulty with touch controls. Instead, the company believes this kind of interface could be useful for people lying in bed, or someone standing up on the train, using his or her free hand to hold onto something.

Don’t count on seeing a commercial product anytime soon — both Docomo and Fujitsu say they're merely displaying what existing technology is capable of. Nevertheless, the two companies did manage to show that a potential paradigm shift in user interface is in sight.