Mind-Blowing Tobii Rex Controls Laptop with Your Eyes

You sit down to your notebook and open Internet Explorer without moving the cursor. Then you start scrolling down your favorite website simply by looking up and down. These are just two of the things the Tobii Rex will let consumers do when it launches later this year. We went eyes-on with this peripheral at CES 2013 and were blown away by just how accurate Rex is.

The Tobii Rex looks like a small speaker bar that sits between your laptop’s screen and deck, and plugs in via USB. Using multiple sensors and light-emitters, Rex can literally follow your eyes across the screen. After calibrating our peepers by staring at dots moving across the display, we were ready to go.

So what can you do with Rex? In one scenario, we could open any application just by pressing a button while staring at the Windows 8 tile we wanted to click. We could also easily select individual emails in the Mail app, no scrolling required. Within IE, we had no problem scrolling to the top or bottom of Laptopmag.com, but the Rex wasn’t quite sensitive enough to select smaller links that were clustered close together.

Tobii showed off two other neat applications of the Rex, one of which is the ability to zoom in on a specific location on a map while looking at the area of the country you wanted to zero in on and pressing a button. We zoomed into our hometown in no time. Last but not least, Rex let us select from among multiple open apps by looking at the one we wanted and pressing a button.

The next step for Tobii is to release the Rex Limited Edition for $999, allowing developers to go to town on creating possible applications. Then later this year the company will sell 5,000 Rex devices to consumers. It won’t be nearly as expensive, but it won’t be cheap either. However, Tobii says that not longer after its peripheral hits the market another company will sell a branded version of the Rex that will be more affordable.

As a tech demo, the Tobii Rex is pretty mind-blowing, but it makes sense to ask how practical this peripheral really is when so many laptops will be shipping with touch screens. For one, repeatedly reaching out and touching the display on a clamshell design can cause physical stress. Second, and more important, the Rex will be used for much more than navigation. Being able to aim in games with your eyes is just one among many uses.

Within the next couple of years, Tobii says the eye-tracking technology inside the Rex will find its way into Ultrabooks and eventually tablets, forever changing the way we interact with our gadgets. We can’t wait to see what developers dream up.

AUTHOR BIO
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
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  1. Cliff Says:

    You know, instead of holding buttons you could always blink twice for a double click.. seems legit to me.

  2. Phil Says:

    1. I cannot see any practical use for this, especially because…
    2. You still have to press a button to select?! What on earth is the point of it then? The only practical application – for people with mobility difficulties preventing them from using their fingers – is thereby nullified.
    3. Wait… he scrolled using JUST ONE BUTTON? No freaking way! That’s WAY easier than using the single scroll-wheel on my mouse or the cursor keys on my keyboard. No, wait, it isn’t.

  3. Sonya Says:

    I like Cliff’s double blink idea. I know I don’t blink enough when staring at the screen all day.

  4. Adam Says:

    I saw an eye-tracking demo by Silicon Graphics in the late 80’s.

    We all assumed “this will be mandatory for every GUI” … the way forward, for sure.

    Every few years, a company shows another variant, nothing happens.

    There’s no compelling value. At least as perceived by the market. But I think it’s there and the vendors aren’t finding it — just as with mp3 players until the first iPod.

    It will take a company like Apple or maybe Google with their glasses, to deliver a generally accepted (and desirable) solution.

    For me, the compelling value would be in multi-head keyboard-mouse sharing. That’s multiple screens to multiple computers across multiple operating systems, with a single keyboard/mouse share. This is semi-doable with Synergy/KM right now, but still clunky compared to just turning my eyes to a display, and the keyboard and mouse would instantly just be on that display … no need to traverse 1000’s of pixels with a mouse (even with acceleration, it’s tedious and inaccurate, especially if you’re swapping between two systems in a continuous work flow.)

    This is getting to the point of real “throwing” gestures where your eyes become that third input to control context. First input is fingers, second is voice, third is eyes. There’s TED demo’s of real world gestures, the eye-tracking cameras pick up hand gestures and coordinate with eye focus. Most people connect this with scenes from the movie Minority Report — though Tom Cruise was a little too dramatic in his orchestra conductor pantomime instead of more task-oriented, like a real video editor might work.

    As for gestures like blinking, it becomes annoying for the user and it’s less reliable than one might think.

    The solution for these input “augmentation” devices will be integration and the ironclad guarantee of privacy — after all, once you have a camera watching you all day, who’s to say when a given government decides to insist that the vendor of the software must give over whatever data it captures? Just as the US Government has attacked email service providers to take private property (emails) without lawful process, it’s only a matter of time before governments try to access any webcam or laptop camera or cell phone camera (or microphone) and this Tobii Rex device surely captures images of a sort. When the user clicks on “help us improve our service by sending anonymous usage data to us” … how long before a government has an aggregation of so much “anonymous” usage data that it’s no longer anonymous because it can all be pieced back together like shredded paper used as confetti and left on public streets.

    For any of these eyeball cameras to work, they have to start with a no-loopholes ironclad guarantee that data can never end up outside the control of the end user.

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