Sweden's Tobii shows 'gaze control' on Windows 8 PC

The technology makes the cursor jump directly to where the eye looks on the screen

We've had gesture control with Microsoft Kinect. Now get ready for gaze control. Swedish firm Tobii is at the Consumer Electronics Show this week to promote the use of its eye tracking technology in PCs and tablets, though it could be a couple of years before it's ready for mainstream use.

The technology uses a sensor built into the monitor which tracks eye movements and translates them into actions on the screen. Instead of moving the cursor with a mouse or touchpad to click a link on the screen, looking at the link makes the cursor appear there immediately.

The technology is being used by market research firms to monitor consumer behavior and by the disabled, but it's too expensive today for widespread consumer use, said Tobii spokeswoman Sara Hyléen. A system with a clip-on gaze sensor can cost US$6,000, she said. It's also too bulky to embed in laptops, and Tobii needs developers to build the required applications for consumer PCs.

But it's working to overcome those hurdles. It has created a gaze interface for the arcade game Asteroids, which it's showing in its booth at CES, and it made an interface for Microsoft's upcoming Windows 8 OS which it demonstrated on a PC at the CES Unveiled press event Sunday

The technology won't replace typing, which is still quicker by hand. But Tobii showed how its technology can make the cursor appear instantly wherever a person looks at the screen, making navigation faster around the screen.

Laptops still need a touchpad to activate the gaze control and to click on a link or zoom in on an image. But the technology shaves time off basic PC tasks, and it could be a boon for people with carpal tunnel syndrome because it requires much less hand movement.

Reading body movements and facial expressions, as Microsoft's Kinect does, is easier than tracking eye movements, however, and Hyleen estimated it will be two years before the technology comes to mainstream PCs.

James Niccolai covers data centers and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow James on Twitter at @jniccolai. James's e-mail address is james_niccolai@idg.com

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