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How cheap eye tracking software changes the app development game

Find out what the advent of low-cost eye tracking software means for the future of both marketing and application development.

The modern application interface has predominantly relied upon keyboard, mouse, and touch. Now though, vendors are starting to release consumer oriented eye tracking software and interfaces that promise new options for building more fluid user experiences. Eye tracking software enables a more hands-off interaction style with applications.

Joakim Karlen, Director of Product Management, VR and Middleware for Tobii, said eye tracking software will provide opportunities for improved more ergonomics and perhaps faster interaction style for a variety of applications; reading training games for kids and adults; improved enterprise app control; and user experience testing (for both games, enterprise apps, and web apps).

Eye tracking technology and eye gazing software has traditionally been used in scientific research, assessing user experience for websites and applications, and providing a hands-off input mechanism for the physically impaired. These devices and associated software cost upwards of $5000. Most recently Tobii Technology has released a series of consumer oriented products retailing for as little as $100. In addition, they have unveiled an Eye tracking chip that reduces CPU overhead, bandwidth requirements that is being embedded into laptops, monitors, and smart phones. In addition, oculus has purchased The Eye Tribe with the goal of embedding eye tracking into the next generation of VR headsets.

How eye tracking software works

There are several technical challenges to accurately capturing information about a person’s gaze. They require the ability to track the minute changes in the direction of a person’s pupils at high speed. The cameras being baked into modern computers and smart phones are growing in resolution and frame rate, but are still limited in the ability to accurately track a person’s gaze in relation to the screen. One challenges the complex processing required to transform images of an eye into directional information.

In order to reduce the computational overhead, eye tracking vendors like Tobii and SensoMoteric Instruments embedd discrete infrared light sources into the eye tracker. This reduces the computational requirements by making it easier to triangulate reflections of the light in relation to the pupil. Tobii has gone one step further by embedding the eye tracking computation directly into the eye tracker, which reduces the data processing requirements on the computer or smart phone. The Tobii Eye Tracker 4C reduces the bandwidth from 20 megabytes per second down to 100 kilobytes per second.

The performance of eye tracking systems are quantified in terms of spatial radial resolution, accuracy, and clock rate. Tobii’s consumer implementations are able to track both the eyes and the direction of the head for finer tuned accuracy. The higher end systems are also able to assess changes in pupil diameter, which can indicate a person’s level of engagement and excitement. They are also able to track whether the eyes are looking at the screen or beyond it, which is an indication that the user has lost engagement.

Moving out of the labs

Tobii is embedding this next generation chip into gaming laptops, computer monitors, the Huawei Honor Magic Android smartphone, and the HTC Vive VR headset. Tobii provides an SDK for application developers that supports C++, .Net, Unity, and the Unreal Engine.

HTC plans to leverage eye tracking technology to enable the ability to track virtual reality ads on its platform. Advertisers will be able to track whether users look at an ad or turn away. HTC is providing an SDK for ad developers to leverage the platform.

The consumer eye trackers are growing in accuracy and performance to rival that of the high eye trackers. But For the moment, Eye tracking vendors like Tobii and SensoMoteric Instruments are separating the consumer of the business from the lucrative scientific testing and Web site analytics business. These often come with specialized analytics software, or work in conjunction with psychophysics or website analytics tools from third parties like SR Research and iMotions.

Tobii’s Karlen said, "Right now Tobii is using gaming as the first area of showing this because that is where high amounts of content are being developed, and that is where the many players in the industry are focused."

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