On our CES travels we stopped by the Tobii booth, which makes eye-tracking hardware such as the Gaze
. The company has continued to refine the gear, coming up with the Rex this year. It looks similar, but contains two cameras that track the eye movement and pinpoint where a user is looking, much like a conventional mouse pointer.
The process was totally painless, and we came away impressed. We had to go through a calibration period on a Windows 8-powered notebook, with nine dots we had to track with our eyes. It only took about 20 seconds however, and we then were able to just look at a tile on the Windows 8 interface and click a button to open that application. There were other applications demonstrated to us as well, including browsing and reading emails, zooming into a high-res photo just by looking at a certain part of it. Zooming into a world map was also easy just by looking at the spot we wanted to zoom to. All the action was then done by simply scrolling the scroll wheel on the mouse. Blinking an eye to replace the click or keypress isn't a viable option, however, as our eyes get tired and we need to blink to rest them, which would lead to erronous clicks.
So, the Rex will be sold initially to developers only, priced at $995, in a few months. The idea is to sell a limited run of about 5,000 units to consumers for a more realistic and lower price once there are some honest-to-goodness apps developed especially for the hardware. This could include games, which would add a unique method of interfacing with them. Eventually, the hope is to integrate the sensor into monitors and notebooks, though this would add a significant amount to the price of entry.
Whether it's less costly to integrate than a touchscreen, however, remains questionable, and the industry is certainly heading the touchscreen way, so it has the economies of scale on its side. The popularity and emergence of convertible notebooks and ultrabooks is on the rise, though we could see Tobii's eye interaction take their place, especially for hours-long and repetitive tasks. The add-on accessory can certainly appeal to those with older notebooks who want to get Windows 8 but can't readily upgrade to a touchscreen to get Windows 8's full functionality. Until a customer app or companion software is ready, however, this isn't a viable option as of yet.