See how eye-tracking may make your smartwatch easier to use in the future

samsung gear s2 software update h
Researchers at Lancaster University in the UK have been experimenting with a new eye-tracking control system suitable for smartwatches, where simply looking at the display activates features. Smartwatches lend themselves to eye-tracking control systems very well, and while there are innovative alternatives to standard touch control out there, an eye tracking system has yet to be introduced. The university’s research may speed this along.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, the research shows eye-tracking isn’t ready for mainstream use just yet, due to the tests being performed using head-mounted eye-trackers, rather than cameras mounted in the watch itself. That doesn’t make the examples any less exciting though.

The team used the a custom control system called Orbits to navigate through a missed call menu, notifications, and a music app. The name comes from targets that ‘orbit’ a circular watch face, on which you concentrate your gaze to activate a function. By following objects moving smoothly around the display, accuracy is improved, and the eye-tracking calibration process simplified. Unlike systems that require us to stare at a target to interact with it, watching a moving target reduces errors.

Targets made for the Orbits system can vary in size, speed, and direction, providing a range of different control options. They’re speed-sensitive though, as certain speeds produce a higher degree of accuracy. Using size presents an interesting opportunity for addressing notification importance. The team introduced larger spinning icons for apps that needed more attention, giving more information to the wearer simply by glancing at the watch, without even opening an app.

Learning curve

Orbits Notifications
Orbits: Spinning objects show notifications, while size emphasizes importance Lancaster University

In the paper describing the research, those who tested it were initially overwhelmed by spinning objects on the display, and didn’t fully understand how to use it. After some instruction, things were clearer. The smartwatch is still a very new piece of technology, and adding an entirely new and unfamiliar interface to it inevitably caused confusion. To help recreate use in the real world, the music player app — which featured five different orbiting controls to master for play/pause, volume, and track skipping — was tested while using a stationary bike. The team reports the tests had an average accuracy rating of 83-percent, and a false positive return of 2.1-percent.

Eye-tracking on a smartwatch makes sense for hands-free use, and for accessibility cases where it’s not possible to fingers or hands to control the device; but it may not be fast enough in everyday situations to be the sole method of interaction. We can see how it could speed things along as a secondary system.

Sadly though, we’ll have to wait to try it all out for ourselves. The university’s tests were all performed using remote or head-mounted eye-trackers and for Orbits, or a similar system, to be a success an eye-tracking camera will need to be built into a smartwatch. The good thing is, research like this may mean that happens sooner than expected.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Folding canoes and ultra-fast water filters

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Smart Home

Tired of running outdoors? Check out the best treadmills of 2018

Running can burn up to 900 calories per hour, melting away fat and strengthening your muscles.  Compared to running outdoors, you're safer staying indoors on a cushioned track. We've rounded up the best treadmills on the market

LG G7 owners experiencing dreaded bootloop will have to wait a few days for fix

If you’ve picked up LG’s flagship and it’s not behaving itself, then you might find a solution here. We’ve rounded up the most common LG G7 ThinQ problems and tracked down workarounds and possible fixes.

Built to take a beating and still perform, these are the best hiking watches

A proper hiking watch should track exercise metrics and act as a navigational co-pilot during any kind of hike. Ideally, it'll even have a built-in GPS system and sensors. Here are five of the best hiking watches.
Product Review

Montblanc Summit 2 offers smart functionality but still looks good with a suit

Montblanc’s Summit 2 is the first smartwatch to use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 3100 processor. It’s feature packed, with GPS, NFC for Google Pay, and a heart rate sensor, but it also has the classic timepiece look.

Beddit Sleep Monitor 3.5 now available on the Apple Store

The Beddit Sleep Monitor 3.5 is now available on the Apple Store for $150. The sensor strip, which is only 2 millimeters thin, automatically tracks a wide array of sleep data when placed under the user's sheets.

Check out the best Green Monday deals for those last-minute gifts

Black Friday and Cyber Monday have come and gone, but that doesn't mean you've missed your chance of finding a great deal. We're talking about Green Monday, of course, and it falls on December 10.

Conquer the cold season with the best heated clothing and outdoor apparel

If you're thinking about going outside this winter, heated apparel is a must. Luckily, we've rounded up some of the best heated clothing, whether you're looking for battery-powered gloves or heated insoles.

Crush your next workout with the best Fitbit for every activity

Fitbits are amazingly helpful tools for setting fitness goals and tracking progress. However, different activities require different metrics. We've gathered a list of the best Fitbits for running, swimming, biking, and other activities.

Google Fit app finally gets a widget, among other new features

Google Fit hasn't received any new features since its redesign. This week, the company is rolling some new tools; users will be able to add a widget to their Android home screen, adjust the intensity of their workouts, and more.

Best Products of 2018

Our reception desk has so many brown boxes stacked up, it looks like a loading dock. We’re on a first-name basis with the UPS guy. We get new dishwashers more frequently than most people get new shoes. What we’re trying to say is: We…

New Apple Watch begins saving lives one week after getting EKG feature

The Apple Watch Series 4 was updated almost a week ago with a new feature that allows users to take electrocardiogram tests -- and already it seems like the new feature is saving lives.

These are the best smartwatches for everything from fashion to fitness

Tempted to buy a smartwatch? If so, then the growing number of great models available means you've got plenty to choose from. But which one should you pick? Here is our list of the best smartwatches.

How to use the ECG app, set up irregular rhythm notifications on the Apple Watch

The Apple Watch Series 4 is the best smartwatch iPhone owners can own, and it just got even better with the addition of the ECG app and ability to identify irregular heart rhythms. Here's how to set it all up.