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Tobii eye-tracking development kit makes for an eye-pleasing demonstration

Intel ended this year’s keynote by talking about perceptual computing, a term for input that relies on motion and voice instead of a keyboard and mouse. It is not alone in its research, however. Tobii, a small company hailing from Sweden, is making strides with its eye-tracking system.

The idea is simple. Humans naturally move their eyes while interacting with a device, so why not harness that movement? Tobii does just that by using a pair of infrared sensors and an embedded processor to track a user’s eyes with surprising precision. Tobii has two units: the Tobii IS20 and the Tobii IS 30. The only difference between the two is the maximum display size in which they are compatible.

Tobii let its demos do the talking. After an extremely short calibration process we were able to scroll through text, zap asteroids, and select images using nothing but eye movement. The effect was at first disorienting. At first, we found our hands kept reaching for the mouse. After several minutes, however, we began to adapt and noticed our input becoming more accurate.

We were even more impressed by the unofficial work Tobii has performed with StarCraft II. Most of the game’s interface was still controlled by a keyboard and mouse, but several important functions, such as navigating the mini-map and moving units, could be performed by looking at a portion of the display and hitting a pre-defined hotkey. Representatives of the company said they’ve also experimented with other games. Imagine, for example, leaning out of a window in-game by leaning in real life.

Tobii isn’t perfect just yet. There were a few issues. Precision control was problematic at times, and the calibration window seemed a bit small. Moving more than a foot in any direction after calibration often threw off the device and made control either non-functional or far less accurate.

Issues like this aren’t deal breakers because it’s only a development kit. Anyone who wants to buy a Tobii will have to spend at least $995 for the standard development package that includes both the hardware and the SDK. Pricing on the consumer version, which will be available for preorder this spring and ship in the fall, is not yet announced.