Hey, look! Lenovo's got an eye-controlled laptop

Staring is not only polite when using this prototype machine, it's what triggers actions like pointing, shooting, and selecting.

Leslie Katz Former Culture Editor
Leslie Katz led a team that explored the intersection of tech and culture, plus all manner of awe-inspiring science, from space to AI and archaeology. When she's not smithing words, she's probably playing online word games, tending to her garden or referring to herself in the third person.
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Leslie Katz
2 min read

Lenovo eye-tracking laptop
Henrik Eskilsson, CEO of eye-tracking software maker Tobii, tests the motion-sensing laptop. The good-size hump on the back of the computer contains the cameras that track a user's eye movements. Tobii

When we first heard about Lenovo's new eye-controlled laptop, we worried that we'd have to stop winking at our monitors every time Justin Bieber popped up in our browser--or risk a seriously messy desktop. Fortunately, the eye-tracking technology is reportedly highly accurate and probably wouldn't be overly sensitive to our odd little tics.

The functional laptop prototype, being demonstrated this week at the CeBit tech fair in Hannover, Germany, lets you point, select, and scroll with your eyes alone. With a stare, for example, you can make a cursor appear, zoom in on pictures or maps, or switch between open windows and browse e-mails and documents. To increase battery life, the computer can auto-dim and brighten the screen when it recognizes your peepers. Also, as demonstrated at CeBit, gamers can glance to pull off actions like burning up incoming asteroids.

The laptop tracks eye movements by shining infrared lights into the user's eyes; hidden cameras then detect the glint in the retinas. The system needs to be adjusted to fit each individual user and works for those with or without eyeglasses.

Eye-tracking software is among the motion control methods already in use for people with disabilities, but it has yet to find a general audience. Swedish company Tobii, Lenovo's partner for this laptop, has for a decade been supplying its technology to researchers and people with special needs, but hopes to make its eye-tracking components small and cheap enough to broaden their reach within a couple of years. (Due to the built-in cameras, the prototype Lenovo laptop is twice as thick as an ordinary such machine.)

"More than anything else, the Tobii laptop prototype is proof that our eye-tracking technology is mature enough to be used in standard computer interfaces," said Henrik Eskilsson, CEO of Tobii. The computer--which could be particularly appealing to those with gadget-weary wrists and arms--has yet to be commercialized.

Despite our concerns that eye movements would randomly open applications and send text messages we didn't want sent, Engadget got its eyeballs on the demo Windows 7 laptop and reports that "it works extraordinarily well--Tobii clearly knows what it's doing, because even with our sloppy calibration at the start of the session, the system still detected where we were looking with pinpoint precision."