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Smartphone Control Using Your Eyes: The Future Is on Its Way

Controlling your smartphone or tablet with your eyes rather than by touching a screen, button or icon is very intriguing and cool, and it could be part of your next phone in the next few years.

eye tracking, smartphones

Smartphones gain amazing new features on a regular basis, with the latest being fingerprint readers that are showing up on more and more devices to help increase security for users. Sometimes the new features are so incredible that we don't even realize how much we needed them before they arrived.

That's exactly the case with another new technology—eye tracking—that could be part of your next smartphone or tablet in the next one to three years.

So what is eye tracking and why should you care? Imagine being able to operate your device by using nothing more than your eyes. No more swiping or tapping a virtual button or icon on your screen to find your desired app. Instead, all you'd have to do is look at what you previously would have tapped or touched and watch your smartphone or tablet open the app or dial the number or conduct a search for you, all just by using your eyes.

This reality is heading our way in the next few years, Sune Alstrup Johansen, the CEO at The Eye Tribe, told eWEEK on March 5 in a telephone interview from Mobile World Congress 2015 in Barcelona, Spain, where the company has its eye tracking technology on display.

The technology the company has developed is now being marketed to smartphone makers and OEM manufacturers to encourage them to include the feature in their future smartphones, said Johansen. It may not happen this year, he said, but he's confident that it will be incorporated by some of them in the future.

"It would enable a new input method" for users, he said. "Instead of only having touch or keyboard input, you could use eye movement" to direct your phone or tablet to fulfill your requests. "If you look at a face and aim your smartphone, then the camera can predict that you are interested in that face and focus on [it] and not on the background to take a picture. If you turn off your phone and then look at its screen, it would know to turn itself on because you want to use it."

All of this and more are accomplished through an infrared light source and an infrared camera that would have to be built into phones, said Johansen. To operate, the infrared light is projected toward the user's face, where it is reflected by the user's eye pupil and cornea back to the smartphone. The reflected light is then recorded and run through an algorithm that can then calculate where the user is looking on the device's screen.

This is quite cool, and I can see uses for it in a myriad of ways in smartphones and tablets and more. The Eye Tribe is even offering a $99 developer's kit to developers to encourage them to experiment with the technology.

So will smartphone manufacturers want to build this into future phones?

We will see. But right now, it sure looks intriguing to me.