Saturday, March 03, 2007

An Alternative to the Computer Mouse

A new interface using eye tracking rather than a mouse ...

"A researcher at Stanford has created an alternative to the mouse that allows a person using a computer to click links, highlight text, and scroll simply by looking at the screen and tapping a key on the keyboard. By using standard eye-tracking hardware--a specialized computer screen with a high-definition camera and infrared lights--Manu Kumar, a doctoral student who works with computer-science professor Terry Winograd, has developed a novel user interface that is easy to operate.

"Eye-tracking technology was developed for disabled users," Kumar explains, "but the work that we're doing here is trying to get it to a point where it becomes more useful for able-bodied users." He says that nondisabled users tend to have a higher standard for easy-to-use interfaces, and previously, eye-tracking technology that disabled people use hasn't appealed to them.

At the heart of Kumar's technology is software called EyePoint that works with standard eye-tracking hardware. The software uses an approach that requires that a person look at a Web link, for instance, and hold a "hot key" on the keyboard (usually found on the number pad on the right) as she is looking. The area of the screen that's being looked at becomes magnified. Then, the person pinpoints her focus within the magnified region and releases the hot key, effectively clicking through to the link.

Kumar's approach could take eye-tracking user interfaces in the right direction. Instead of designing a common type of gaze-based interface that is controlled completely by the eyes--for instance, a system in which a user gazes at a given link, then blinks in order to click through--he has involved the hand, which makes the interaction more natural. "He's got the right idea to let the eye augment the hand," says Robert Jacob, professor of computer science at Tufts University, in Medford, MA."    (Continued via Technology Review)    [Usability Resources]

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