Tobii and Lenovo show off prototype eye-controlled laptop, we go eyes-on (video)

A lot of companies -- including heavyweights like Microsoft -- believe that motion control is the future of the human-machine interface. But it's an awful lot of work to wave your hands around every time you want to change windows, isn't it? Swedish firm Tobii, which specializes in eye control, teamed up with Lenovo to craft a run of 20 prototype Windows 7 laptops with eye control sensors built-in, and we had a chance to check out the setup here at CeBIT today.

The verdict? It works extraordinarily well -- Tobii clearly knows what it's doing, because even with our sloppy calibration at the start of the session, the system still detected where we were looking with pinpoint precision. One demo the company had set up was an Expose-style layout of all open windows, and we were able to target the smallest of the bunch (Calculator in this case) consistently and naturally -- we never felt like we were "staring" to make something happen. Clearly this is a capability that'll require some UX thought and research, because you don't want the computer to just start doing things as you look around; most of the eye-controlled capabilities they'd baked into the laptop here were triggered with a key command, though one feature we really liked -- a quick bar to access frequently-used media -- was pulled up just by looking beyond the left side of the screen. It also worked very well and never came up when we didn't want it to. The level of precision was further verified with a simple game they've created where you blow up asteroids before they impact Earth just by looking at them; the smallest rocks were only a few pixels wide, and we could consistently blast 'em.

As for commercialization, they're still a ways off -- they're thinking two years if they can team up with the right partner. Tobii says that there's a trade-off between sensor size and accuracy; the prototype has a sizable hump on the back and a roughly inch-wide strip running directly below the display, both of which are pretty impractical for a truly portable machine. The sensor must be below the display, we're told, though it could be made quite a bit thinner -- no wider than the bezel you've got below your notebook's current display. Follow the break for a full video demo!

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Tobii unveils the world's first eye-controlled laptop

Stockholm, Sweden, Hannover, Germany-March 1, 2011-Tobii Technology today unveiled the world's first laptop with integrated eye control. The prototype laptop has been developed in collaboration with computer manufacturer Lenovo and will be shown publicly for the first time at CeBIT in Hannover, March 1-5.

Lenovo, the world's fourth largest manufacturer of personal computers, has built the world's first eye-controlled laptop, using eye tracking technology from Tobii. The laptop is a fully functional conceptual prototype and an important breakthrough for Tobii in its mission to bring its eye tracking technology to serial production and consumer products.

Eye control – a truly natural interface

Most computer manufacturers today endeavor to enhance their products by adding more and more natural interfaces. Using our eyes to point, select and scroll is completely intuitive and complements traditional control interfaces, such as the mouse and keyboard, in a very natural way.

"More than anything else, the Tobii laptop prototype is proof that our eye tracking technology is mature enough to be used in standard computer interfaces. To reach a state where the technology is part of the average computer, we need to make it smaller and cheaper. We believe that this can be realized in a couple of years by partnering with the right manufacturer," comments Henrik Eskilsson, CEO of Tobii Technology.

The Tobii-Lenovo collaboration

The first batch of eye-controlled laptops consists of 20 units split evenly between Tobii Technology and Lenovo for development and demo purposes.

"On the one hand, we have Lenovo, a great partner, representing industry-leading expertise in computer manufacturing and hardware development. Tobii, on the other hand, has the world's leading eye tracking technology and unique expertise in eye tracking and eye control interfaces. We are very happy with the outcome of this collaboration," Henrik Eskilsson concluded.

Envision eye control in PC's

For users, eye control is thrilling and makes the computer interaction more effective. It is as if the computer understands you; just glance at an icon or gadget and more information will be presented; You can zoom pictures or maps and automatically center on the area you are looking at; The computer can auto-dim and brighten the screen when it recognizes your eyes to increase battery time. Eye control can also speed things up by enabling new and intuitive ways to switch between open windows, and browse your emails and documents.

"We anticipate that people will be extremely excited to be able to control their computer with their eyes," said Barbara Barclay, general manager of Tobii North America. "But what we find most exciting are the opportunities that eye control as part of natural user interfaces offer consumer electronics manufacturers in a range of product categories. We look forward to working with our partners to find many exciting ways to share and integrate this technology to advance their work."