Lenovo shows off eye-controlled laptop

Swedish company Tobii has provided the eye-tracking technology for the prototype Lenovo laptop, which allows people to select documents by looking at them

Lenovo has teamed up with eye-tracking technology specialist Tobii to create an eye-controlled laptop, which the partners showed off at the CeBIT show in Hanover this week.

The prototype Lenovo PC uses Stockholm-based Tobii's Eye Tracker Integrated System (IS) to allow a user to control parts of the Windows 7 operating system with their eyes. The system, embedded in a horizontal black strip between the keyboard and the monitor, uses two cameras to track a user's pupils as they focus on different areas of the screen. It then sends the x and y locations of the person's gaze to the computer.

"The combination of hands and eyes is an ideal natural user interface," Anders Olsson, a business development manager for Tobii, told ZDNet UK.

The technology could be in consumer laptops in as little as two years, according to Olsson, who declined to reveal the cost of Eye Tracker IS. However, he said that if produced in large enough volumes — production runs of around 100,000 — the cost could be brought down so it could appear in high-end consumer laptops.

The device must be calibrated before use by standing between 45 and 75cm from the laptop and following a yellow dot for 10 seconds as it moves around the screen. In future, webcam-based image recognition will mean that an individual will only need to calibrate the device once, according to Olsson.

The prototype, of which there are only 20 worldwide, interfaces with the laptop in several ways. For example, if the eye tracker detects that the user's gaze is directed slightly to the left or the right of the laptop screen, a menu will flash up at the side. Documents in the menu can then be selected by looking at them.

The combination of hands and eyes is an ideal natural user interface.

– Anders Olsson, Tobii

Olsson explained that Lenovo had wanted to build a laptop with the Eye Tracker IS technology for in-house research and development efforts.

Tobii hopes that, as with the Lenovo laptop, the Eye Tracker IS system will start to be used in a range of applications outside of the Swedish company's specialities of market research and medical technology. Potential applications include gaming machines, medical instruments and vehicles, Olsson said. He declined to say whether Tobii had a pilot prototype project with a tablet manufacturer.

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