Eye-controlled functionality coming soon to smartphones and tablets

Eric Pfeiffer

In the near future, we may be using our eyes to operate our smartphones and tablets, even when it comes to playing popular games like Fruit Ninja.

NPR profiled the GazeGroup, which has been developing eye-controlled computer technology for nearly 20 years. But those devices have been primarily designed to aid those with disabilities, and are typically very expensive.

"After a while, we figured out that probably the best way is to go for a mass-market approach," says Gaze's Sune Alstrup Johansen. "Where everybody would have this available."

Johansen and some of his colleagues have formed a new company, The Eye Tribe, which is hoping to develop the technology on a mass commercial level.

The technology works by projecting an infrared light from the computing device toward the user's face. After calibrating with the user's eye movements, the technology is then able to easily detect where a person's eyes are moving, allowing the eyes to control a cursor.

"Our software can then determine the location of the eyes and estimate where you're looking on the screen with an accuracy good enough to know which icon you're looking at," reads an explanation on The Eye Tribe site.

There has been a gradual shift toward hands-free technology in recent years, particularly in the gaming world. On the heels of Nintendo's popular Wii system, Xbox released the Kinect device, which lets users control their Xbox and play certain games using only their hands, legs and voices. Still, most of these devices have been more of a gimmick than a practical alternative to using one's hands to control a mobile device.

Watch a video of The Eye Tribe's technology at work on a Windows 8 tablet device:

While most smartphones and other mobile devices to not come standard with an infrared device, Johansen said a replaceable filter would be an inexpensive, convenient option for most consumers.

And even as companies like The Eye Tribe work to create a commercially viable product for the average user, making the eye-controlled technology more accessible and less expensive will have similar benefits for physically disabled users.

"Then I can go to any computer, and then I can control it and I can use it, instead of just bringing my own," said Stig Langvad, who heads up Denmark's umbrella organization for people with disabilities. "So I'll be a part of society on an equal foot, instead of being a special solution."