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Monday, 8 July, 2002, 08:19 GMT 09:19 UK
Replace your mouse with your eye
Imperial College eye-tracking experiment
Computer watches your eye movements
BBC News Online's Alfred Hermida

Computers of the future could be controlled by eye movements, rather than a mouse or keyboard.

Scientists at Imperial College, London, are working on eye-tracking technology that analyses the way we look at things.

The team is trying to gain an insight into visual knowledge - the way we see objects and translate that information into actions.

"Eye-trackers will one day be so reliable and so simple that they will become yet another input device on your computer, like a much more sophisticated mouse," said Professor Guang-Zhong Yang of the Department of Computing at Imperial College.

Needle in a haystack

The scientists at Imperial College have been using an infra-red eye-tracking headset to understand how the eye moves when given a task.

Professor Yang, Imperial College
Yang: Act of looking is very sophisticated
For the research, people have been shown an image and given a limited amount of time to find a specific target, such as a waving hand in a crowd.

Searching for something like a hand in a crowd requires as much mental effort as, for example, solving a crossword puzzle. The scientists are trying to understand how this visual knowledge works.

"You can see things but you may not be able to recognise things," Professor Yang told the BBC programme Go Digital.

"It is the only when the eye registers with the cognitive part of the brain that things start to happen.

"We are trying to unravel how biological visual systems work and reverse-engineer better computer vision systems," he said.

Eye-control

The team is looking at applying its research for use in areas such as keyhole surgery or robotic surgery.

"If you want to operate on a moving object using keyhole surgery, such as the beating heart to do a coronary bypass, you want to have a stable view," he explained.

"So we could have the camera move in correspondence with this rhythm so what you see is a stationary picture."

Professor Yang believes eye-tracking technology could also help the way we interact with machines, such as computers.

Other potential applications include installing an eye-tracker in a car dashboard to warn a driver who is falling asleep, or enable a fighter pilot to aim missiles by simply looking at a target.

Professor Yang was presenting his work at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition in London, which showcases researchers at the cutting edge of science in the UK.

See also:

19 Nov 00 | Health
08 Jan 01 | Health
07 Apr 02 | Science/Nature
21 Jan 02 | dot life
11 Mar 02 | Science/Nature
Links to more Science/Nature stories are at the foot of the page.


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