You’re driving home from work on Friday evening, and the last thing you want to do is cook. You notice a trattoria on the left. “Is that place any good?” you ask your car, glancing towards the restaurant and dreaming of carbonara. “Trattoria La Ruga serves traditional Italian cuisine,” the car responds. “It is rated 9/10 on an average of reviews.” Sounds just the place, you think. “Book a table for two at 8pm,” you say. Ten minutes later, the car confirms your reservation.
That scene will soon become a reality. Virtual assistants already listen to our voices. Now tech companies are developing digital aides that will track our eyes. Gaze-control technology was invented in Sweden in the late 1990s. John Elvesjö, a physicist, was working on a system to see how particles of fruit pulp move, to help juice companies filter them out more efficiently. By mistake he turned the camera sensor around to point at his own face, and realised that it was following the orientation of his eyes.
Elvesjö teamed up with Mårten Skogö, another physicist, and a computer-hardware specialist, to refine the discovery. The device they came up with contains cameras and projectors, which focuses two infrared beams on the area around the eye, whose reflections are detected by infrared sensors in the device. The machine can tell where the eyes are pointing. “That tells us about the user’s attention, and gives us insight into their intention,” Skogö explains.
Carmakers such as Audi and Mercedes already use voice-control systems. Soon they will include gaze control – useful when cars will drive themselves and their occupants can let their attention wander. If the eyes are the windows to the soul, they will also tell our machines what we’re thinking.•