At this year's CES, we were absolutely floored by the demo we got of Tobii's eye-tracking interface. Since then, Tobii has been working on making the hardware smaller, and at Siggraph this week we got some eyes-on time with a version of its gaze-tracker that fits into a pair of gasses.
Tobii's glasses are packing the same pupil-tracking technology that its consumer hardware does, except that instead of having to sit in front of a laptop, you can just put these things on to get the same magical effect. In their current incarnation, the glasses aren't specifically designed as a user interface tool, but are instead set up for passive gaze tracking and recording. There's no projection or anything: the glasses are completely see-through. It just tracks your gaze in real-time very, very accurately.
So what's the point if you can't really use the glasses as a control system? As Tobii explained it to us, there are actually a lot of cool things that you can do with gaze tracking. For example, you can track where professional doctors look when they make diagnoses based on X-rays or MRIs, and then use those data to teach med students what to look for. You can put a pair of the glasses on veteran police officers while they run through simulations, and compare their eye movements with those of novice officers running the same sim to improve training. For fighter pilots (and drivers), wearing the glasses can detect when they're about to pass out from G forces (or fall asleep). And it's even valuable for things like treating autism: autistic kids look at rocks and faces the same way, and detailed gaze tracking may lead to new therapy techniques. As Tobii told us, "it's going to be everywhere."
Despite this level of optimism, the folks at the Tobii booth didn't seem particularly interested in speculating about the consumer side of the glasses, but we're happy to do it for them, especially since it's so easy. Based on the mixture of technologies that we've seen show up in the last few years, I'm betting that the wearable display technology of the future will not be something like Google Glass. Instead, the way to get lush, high resolution, controllable glasses-type displays is by combining a gaze-detection system like Tobii's with Innovega's video glasses and contact-lens augmented reality tech. We're talking 40-inch, 120-degree immersive projections that you can control just by glancing at stuff and blinking. No buttons, no keyboards, no gestures: you just look, and it does what you want.
What's really nuts about this is that all of this technology is here, right now. You can't buy it in the form we're describing, but it's out there. It works. It's not even some secret government project or anything: these are commercial companies who eventually want you to buy their stuff, as soon as they're finished trying to, you know, do some of that research and good for humanity type things that always seem to get in the way.
All photos, video by Evan Ackerman for DVICE. Posted on location at SIGGRAPH 2012 in Los Angeles, California.