What is Eye Tracking? - Technology & Research

Instructor: David Gloag
Our vision is important to many of us, because of our reliance on it. In this lesson, we'll take a look at eye tracking, the current state of the technology, and where it may be going.

Vision Rules

We live in a world where vision dominates. Imagery of all sorts prompts us at every turn. Television commercials from the folks at Swiffer want us to try their dusters. Road signs from the traffic authorities want to control our driving behavior. And magazine advertisements from companies like Rolex want us to buy their watches.

It's gotten to the point where we tune it all out, to ignore much of what is thrown at us. As a result, companies are looking for ways to target their message so that it goes to those that might be interested. One technology that shows promise in this area is eye tracking.

What is Eye Tracking?

Eye tracking is the process of examining eye activity, with the goal of deriving meaning from that activity. Most of us rely heavily on our eyes, so it makes a great deal of sense. For example, a retailer could learn about buying habits by examining what its customers are looking at, and for how long.

A head-mounted eye tracker device
eye tracker

A software engineer could drive the user interface for their latest application through location focus, and eye movement. Or store advertising could use eye color patterns or retinal scans to tailor displays to the individual. In each case, the ability comes down to how accurately the technology used can discern the eye behaviors.

Current Technology

Current technology uses three basic techniques for eye tracking; attached, optical, and electric potential.

  • The attached technique uses a special device placed on the eye, such as a contact lens, to capture the required information.
  • Optical or magnetic techniques are used to determine eye movement. The optical technique uses reflected light and video to determine eye movement. This is the most common of all three.
  • The electric potential technique uses electrodes placed around the eyes, and electricity, to determine movement.

Regardless of the technique used, each is trying to determine a number of things. Some of them include:

  • The direction the eyes are pointed.
  • The eyes' focal distance.
  • How eye direction relates to head turn and tilt.
  • How quickly the eyes move.
  • The time the eyes spend on a particular spot.

Once these are determined, specialized computer processing is used to arrive at any desired conclusions.

A baseball player wears an eye tracker
baseball eye tracker

Research in the area of eye tracking has taking a number of different paths over the longer term.

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