Nov 9, 2011

Eye Tracking - The Future PC Mouse Pointer

While the world continues to evolve technologically it will be important to figure out better ways to interact with our computers. Everyone that has designed graphical user interfaces knows that simplicity is important. Usually pleasant experiences can be found on things that require very little physical effort. One of the technologies that fascinates me is the possibility of using our eyes as a mouse to move a computer's cursor.

We have seen the evolution of different pointing systems such as the classic mouse, trackballs, trackpoints and touch surfaces like in tablets and trackpads/touchpads, and many others. Usually all of these require the computer's user to separate their hands from the keyboard and move a hand to the pointer device. With eye tracking technology there's no need to separate our hands from our keyboards. The computer's mouse pointer will move to the exactly where our eyes are focusing.

Obviously performing left and right clicks could be done via closing our eyes, but that method may cause a bit of stress. Left and right clicks would still require us to press buttons. These buttons could easily be added to the standard keyboard. As you have realized already we don't use a lot of those included media/internet buttons.

Eye tracking technologies have been used for research in marketing (they track where your eyes are watching, and they love to optimize advert placement). No I wouldn't want Facebook or Google to track my eyes. In other cases they are used for the good to assist people with limited motor skills, which is something very positive about the technology. The mass consumers have not adopted eye tracking, although they certainly seem to be with devices such as the Kinect Sensor on Xbox 360.

Personally I have not tried such eye tracking devices. I would assume that they are not perfect yet but they may be refined over time. I wouldn't mind having such eye tracking technologies in my laptop and monitors. Carrying the mouse when moving from place to place is a bit annoying, and having less on my desk would be great. (gives me room for my coffee mug)

Can we hope to see eye tracking on laptops soon? don't bet on it. However, Lenovo showed a neat prototype during CeBit 2011 which shows us a hint of what may one day be everywhere. Fingers crossed.



  1. I don't think this idea is feasible for a standard computer with a normal (12-36) inch display.

    My eyes normally focus on an area about 1 inch by 1 inch when I'm looking at something, which means that I don't look EXACTLY at one point. That's too little precision for a computer mouse. No matter how good the tech gets, the eye is the limiting factor that can't be fixed.

    This would however be useful for crude directional control (looking around in a VR/FPS for instance) or for really big (60 inches or bigger) screens with big controls where precision isn't an issue.

  2. You are right that there are gaps in the technology. We might be many years away from something with spot on accuracy.

    If the user interface is bigger then it will be easier. In a way similar to how slate and smartphone devices use "bigger buttons" for finger input.

    My hope is that the technology gets refined over time and one day be as useful or even better than the mouse.