SensoMotoric Instruments is a company that builds eye-tracking goggles for research and teaching projects, and the DFKI is the German center for artificial intelligence. Together, the pair has cooked up 'Talking Places,' a Google Glass-esque concept that is designed to help people navigate unfamiliar locations. Thanks to a combination of cutting-edge hardware and software, we were taken on a tour of a model village and were surprised to see that the unit offered up plenty of information about our surroundings. Interested in how it's done? Head on past the break.
SMI "Talking Places" hands-on
The hardware contains six infrared lights, designed to bounce invisible rays straight into your eyes. An infrared camera in each lens then picks up those signals and uses them to coordinate the location of your pupils, tracking what you're looking at. If it senses that you've fixed your gaze on a specific location for more than a few seconds, a nose-bridge mounted HD camera will take a 50 x 50 pixel snapshot and compare it to its image database -- much like Google Goggles. If it finds a matching reference, it'll bring up contextual information that is displayed on the Brother head-mounted display that accompanies the SMI glasses. In our demo, that meant pumping in images, opening times and an audio description of the boutiques on the main street of the model village. After the unit had finished calibrating, it was instantly able to pick out wherever we pointed our eyes. We were a little nervous, not only in case we were caught looking at an unsuspecting member of the public -- but also if we sneezed, sending the €20,000 hardware flying across the hall.
We were also treated to a walking tour of the floor using the SMI goggles, which were able to show on a laptop exactly where we were pointing our eyes. The company is also (without DFKI) developing a virtual reality environment that uses a pair of active-shutter glasses and a head-tracking camera to let you wander around cave-like structures from the comfort of the lab. While this gear is primarily used for research, there's a hope that a museum in Kaiserslauten will adopt "Talking Places" as a tour-guide, and the company is mooting a commercial version, as long as it can bring the costs down. If you'd like to catch the action, we strongly recommend you check out both of our videos.
Dana Wollman contributed to this report.