Eye tracking is one of the coolest emerging technologies I’ve seen in years, but it’s still much too expensive to go mainstream.
Now, Germany-based 4tiitoo is trying to change that with the NUIA EyeCharm, a $60 eye-tracking attachment for Microsoft’s Kinect motion controller. The product seeks $100,000 in funding from Kickstarter, and is currently about 16 percent toward its goal.
On its Kickstarter page, 4tiitoo says the attachment adds “optics and special infrared illumination” to the Kinect’s existing camera and microphone array. “By illuminating your face with invisible infrared light, analyzing the natural movements of your eyes and adding some physics and mathematics, it is then possible to calculate the area you are looking at,” the company says.
The hardware is only part of the solution, though. The EyeCharm also ships with a suite of apps built by 4tiitoo, along with a software development kit so programmers can build their own eye-controlled apps and extensions. The really good news here is that 4tiitoo says it’s working with two other eye-tracking companies, Tobii and SMI, so apps developed for EyeCharm will work with other major sensors on the market. (One of my big concerns with the upcoming boom in PC motion controllers is that there’s no good standard that works across all devices, so the app situation will be a bit of a Wild West at first.)
The usefulness of eye tracking can be tough to understand without actually trying it. But when it works well, eye tracking can be much faster and more intuitive than a mouse or trackpad for navigating around a computer, and on a desktop or laptop, it’s more practical than touch. In demos I’ve tried from Tobii, I easily selected items on the screen by looking at them while pressing a keyboard button, and scrolled through websites automatically as my eyes read down the page.
As impressed as I’ve been with Tobii’s technology, it’s not ready for the mass market yet. The company’s first commercial product, the Rex, costs about $1,000, and will ship in very small volumes later this year. Any company that claims to offer a much cheaper solution has my interest. Still, the reason Tobii’s solution is so exciting is because it works really well. We’ll have to see how EyeCharm measures up in terms of accuracy, but the demo video on 4tiitoo’s Kickstarter page looks promising.
If the EyeCharm gets full funding, 4tiitoo plans to starts its hardware production run in June and deliver the final product, apps and software development kit by August 1. I doubt this will be the product that takes eye control mainstream, especially since relying on Kinect feels like a hack to me, but it could be a promising start in making the technology more affordable.
NUIA eyeCharm: Kinect to eye tracking by 4tiitoo [Kickstarter]