Laptops to be ‘powered’ by eyes


2 May 2011
Reaction score
For nearly 40 years, we've had the keyboard and the mouse. Point, click. Point, click. It works, but it's indirect. You may be too young to remember, but the mouse wasn't always the easiest thing to learn. (I spent many years working as a personal computer tutor, paying house calls to frustrated adults who were struggling to enter the digital age.)

But then came the Wii. We could control a computer by waving a wireless remote in space. There was the iPhone and iPad: we could control a computer by pointing and dragging a finger on glass. There was the Microsoft Xbox Kinect: we could control a computer without touching it at all, just by moving our limbs in space. Then came Siri on the iPhone 4S, which took voice control to a much more sophisticated, fluid level.

Each of these breakthroughs works brilliantly in its particular niche - but we're not done yet. At the International Consumer Electronics Show a couple of weeks ago, I'd heard buzz about a company called Tobii, which was demonstrating a laptop with built-in eye-tracking software . (That's Tobii, "with two eyes," get it?)

Now eye tracking isn't new. It is available, at huge cost, in the military, in specialized industries , for disabled people, and so on. But it's one thing to pay millions for a heads-up display in a fighter jet, and quite another to have it on your laptop.

I found the company's booth out in the deepest reaches of C.E.S.'s 37-football-fieldsbig exhibition halls.-.the Siberia of tiny booths from companies without a lot of money to spend. The entire booth was pretty much one laptop and one desktop PC.

A representative helped me through the demo on the laptop. First, the system finds and learns where your eyes are by using a 10-second calibration procedure, in which you simply look at an orange dot as it jumps to four positions around the screen. Then you're ready.

The first demonstration was an Asteroids game, in which you're supposed to blow up incoming asteroids just by looking at them. You discover that Tobii's system works perfectly , flawlessly, exhilaratingly. Your hands are free, your body is relaxed, and you're blowing up space rocks instantly with nothing but the awesome power of your gaze.

Another demonstration involved Google Maps: the software automatically focuses and zooms in wherever you seem to be focusing.

There was a slide show app, in which you see the thumbnails of many photos, and whenever you gaze at one in particular, it automatically blows up full screen.

On a PC running Windows 8, you could click toolbar buttons in Word, click tile buttons and swipe through screens, all using your eyes. In an architecture-design program, you could effortlessly move around a large blueprint with your eyes, using the mouse's scroll wheel to zoom in at any point. (For the disabled , Tobii makes a kit that lets you "click the mouse" by blinking or staring, but the system really works best in conjunction with a regular trackpad or mouse.)

The demo that really rocked my world, though, was something much less glamorous: reading. Imagine a Web page or Word document on the screen before you - and the page scrolls automatically, gracefully and effortlessly as you proceed through the article. The system knows where your eyes are and how fast you are going, so it keeps your place centered on the screen, scrolling automatically as you go, even if you jump back to reread something. It feels as if this is how reading on a computer screen was always meant to be.

The rep said that the company was marketing this system to computer manufacturers, not individuals (although the company also sells hugely expensive add-on kits for existing computers - for disabled people, for example). And he said it would take a couple of years before you could buy it.

Furthermore, as excited as I was by my first experience with everyday eye tracking, I later discovered that not all of it is new. Tobii , it turns out, has competitors. And Tobii isn't a new company, or even a small company ; it's a big Swedish outfit that makes eyetracking products for all kinds of uses. Even the laptop wasn't new; a Google search indicates that Tobii has been demonstrating it at trade shows for a year.

Even so, you know right away when you try it: There is something here. It may be a couple of years away, but the technology is stunning - and the possibilities are limitless.

Top Bottom
AdBlock Detected

We get it, advertisements are annoying!

Sure, ad-blocking software does a great job at blocking ads, but it also blocks useful features of our website. For the best site experience please disable your AdBlocker.

I've Disabled AdBlock