I’ve had a Tobii Eye Tracker sitting among a pile of PC peripherals that I want to cover or give away for a year now. I hate when this happens, but time and sanity is limited. But something came over me this week, and I finally did the work to plug in the eye-tracking device and set it up … and now I’m scared.
The Tobii Eye Tracker 4C is a $ 150 USB bar-shaped device that sits beneath your monitor. Using an array of cameras and infrared lights, it can tell precisely where you’re looking on your screen. Tobii is positioning it as a gaming peripheral, and the company is working with publishers like Ubisoft and some indie developers to integrate eye tracking into their games. In Kingdom Come: Deliverance, you can control the camera a bit with your eyes similar to the TrackIR head-tracking camera. And you can set onscreen UI elements to fade to almost total transparency unless you’re looking at them — when you do, they will immediately pop back to 100 percent opacity.
You can also use Tobii’s Streaming Gaze app to display a graphic representation of where you’re looking in videos on Twitch or YouTube. The company wants esports pros to use this to show their fans where they’re looking when they pull off impressive plays … I used it to play Where’s Waldo and to have my friends perform experiments on me during a livestream on Twitch.
Tobii’s eye tracking works so well, that I expect that we’ll find it and similar tech in all kinds of products over the next couple of years. Laptop manufacturers are already building Tobii into certain notebooks, and Tobii wants to bring it to manufacturing. I’d anticipate that we’d also get it in smartphones in the next several years.
And that’s what I find scary — even if it’s a good kind of scared. Imagine all the things this tech could enable. You could sell data to websites and mobile apps that details what content people look at and what they ignore. You could build psychological marketing profiles of individuals based on what they look at in a video or image.
Or imagine these cameras at retail stores and Target sending you an email about how that shirt with the cool buttons you were staring at are on sale.
I can also picture a near future where you have something like this built into your smartwatch or glasses, and you get a notification if a stranger is staring at you in public.
For now, however, my experience with Tobii eye tracking only involves gaming. And while I wait for some of the sci-fi implementations, I’ll keep it plugged into my PC for a while to see if it is a meaningful improvement to my games.