Smart watches

Scientists create eye-tracking software for smartwatches

Read more: Gallery: Your next smartwatch could be controlled with your eyes

Turn lights on and off; change the volume of a song; switch from one TV channel to another. All of this can already be done on a smartwatch – and now they can be done without even touching the screen.

Research into eye-tracking software has led researchers to an innovative new method of “smooth” scrolling that they claim is similar to eye movement.

The researchers, from Lancaster University, have adapted a smartwatch to be controlled by circular eye movements. Watching a small dot move across a screen triggers an option – the same way pressing a physical button or tapping a screen can change a setting. “For smartwatches I think it’s quite important because the watch is designed to be operated by the eyes – that’s the whole point of why we went from a pocket watch to a watch that we can look at without needing our hands,” said Hans Gellersen who worked on the project. “This mechanism for triggering functions by following gestures can also be used in other settings, for example TV controls. You can watch the screen remotely and use gestures to select functions.” Each screen can have multiple functions, with its own rotary dots, which can be used to change different sections. To ensure that the wrong points are not picked, each moves at a different speed.

which monitors eye movement and is a ready-to-use Pupil Labs Pro device. However, Gellersen says that when smartwatches have high-quality built-in cameras, they will be able to monitor eye movement.

Eye tracking is being developed in a number of different areas, including by advertisers monitoring browsing habits for marketing purposes, predictive tracking to control cars, and also potentially included in future versions of the Oculus Rift. Gellersen said eye tracking has “gone cheap” but it’s “unclear” what the “big applications” will be.

He said the circular pick system works more naturally than existing eye tracking systems. “Before, to trigger a pimple, people had to stare at it longer, stare at it, which is unnatural for the eye and very tiring,” he said. “If we show moving elements on the screen instead, it’s more natural for the eye to follow the movement, because that’s how the eye already works.”