January 02, 2013, 8:27 AM — Tobii Technology will soon start shipping a device that allows users to control a PC using their eyes. Developers will be able to buy the REX next week, and Tobii will make it more widely available in the second half of the year, the company said Wednesday
Tobii calls the REX a gaze interaction peripheral: it attaches to a PC's display. The Swedish company said it is the first such device for the consumer market.
"This is a natural step for us. We have been working on products for niche markets for many years, but the ultimate goal has always been to develop our technology so it can be added to any computer, and a peripheral is the easiest way to do that," Sara Hyléen, marketing director at Tobii, said.
At CES, Tobii will demonstrate some of the core features of its technology, including the ability to select, scroll, zoom and navigate using eye movements.
"What the eye is superior at is pointing, because that is something we do naturally. You look for what you want to click on or zoom in on, and then you have to move the mouse or if you are using a touchscreen your hand. That middle step you can skip when using eye-tracking," Hyléen said.
To keep track of what the user is looking at, Tobii uses two specially built optical sensors.
Developers will be the first to get their hands on the REX: A special developer edition of the peripheral will go on sale next week, according to Hyléen.
"We want to build a larger community of developers that can create applications with eye control integrated. So we then can offer consumers a richer product during the second half of the year," she said.
The Tobii REX Developer Edition costs US$995, and in addition to the peripheral, the package also includes an SDK (software development kit) and other support materials needed to help developers get started in an area most aren't familiar with.
Users of the package have to think carefully about how they implement Tobii's technology, because there are some pitfalls, according to Hyléen.
Often developers think they need to implement eye-control for everything. But for people that have the ability to use their eyes along with traditional controls a combination often ends up being the most effective interface.
At first, the company will manufacture a limited run of 5,000 Tobii REX units for consumers. Users that want to get access to the product before everyone else can sign up on Tobii's website.
"We feel its a good idea to start small, and prove the technology works and that there is a viable market for it," Hyléen said.
For now, the consumer unit only works with Windows 8. She wouldn't say what it will cost.
Tobii expects its technology will be integrated in laptops and displays in 2014 or 2015, with tablets to follow.