The Eyebox2 is watching you

Be careful the next time you look at a billboard - it just might be looking back. Thanks to a new device called eyebox2 that tracks eye movements from as far as 10 metres away, advertisers may soon be able to measure how many people actually look at a billboard or plasma panel.

Be careful the next time you look at a billboard – it just might be looking back. Thanks to a new device called eyebox2 that tracks eye movements from as far as 10 metres away, advertisers may soon be able to measure how many people actually look at a billboard or plasma panel.

‘I think it will revolutionize the market,’ says eyebox2 inventor Roel Vertegaal. ‘With TiVos and DVRs, people can skip across ads. You can buy a newspaper ad, but who’s going to tell you how many people looked at it? What’s cool about this is we can make it interactive, and provide that information.’

Vertegaal is director of the Human Media Laboratory at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., and the CEO of Xuuk, which will manufacture and market the device along with Parteq, which commercializes inventions coming out of the university. So far, though, they’ve only had to do WOM, which began with the announcement that Vertegaal had presented his invention to Google.

‘We went from zero to 311,000 hits on Google in two weeks,’ he says. ‘We’ve been swamped by requests – the ad market appears to be dying for this. So we’re now following up on conversations. We’ve had some pre-sales, but it’s too early to talk about details.’

The eyebox2 uses an infrared camera to track and photograph your eyeball movements. ‘You know when you use flash photography and people get red eyes? Normally, you would use photo editing software to get rid of that,’ says Vertegaal. ‘Our software works the same way, except it solicits a red eye in people standing in front of it, and uses it.’

Vertegaal says any Big Brother fears are premature. ‘We only use the pictures to find eyeballs, and discard them after 1/15 of a second,’ he explains. ‘Our technology is no different from a door sensor that detects your presence and opens the door for you – except it will know whether you’re looking at that door or not.’

Still, the mind boggles at future applications. ‘We decided not to incorporate iris scanning,’ says Vertegaal. ‘We don’t need to know the identity of the people looking at the ad. That’s for other companies to do, and when that happens we’re happy to tag along, but we’re not interested in moving in that direction if it’s not necessary.’

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