Our demonstration model, for example, simply requires the user to make relative movements towards a point of interest on their display. A big world map is displayed, and a small, eye-operated rectangle represents the point of interest. The user can look to the upper-left corner of the display to see Canada, or to the lower-right corner to focus on Australia.
Dr Rigo Herold
A team from the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft
has developed data glasses that can be operated via the movements of a user’s eyes. The researchers are confident that their hands-free, head-mounted displays (HMDs) will offer ‘a third hand’ to professionals working within sectors such as engineering, medicine and security.
In collaboration with colleagues from the Fraunhofer Institute for Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation (IOSB)
and the engineering and prototyping company Trivisio
, researchers from the Fraunhofer Center for Organics, Materials and Electronic Devices Dresden (COMEDD)
integrated OLEDs and photodetectors onto the surface of a novel CMOS chip. The chip, which is equipped with microscaled transmitter and receiver units, makes possible the inclusion of a bidirectional microdisplay capable of both recording and reproducing images. In turn, the user sees relevant information overlaid onto the real world whilst their eye movements are simultaneously registered by the HMD’s camera.
In an interview with ScienceOmega.com
, Dr Rigo Herold, Project Manager from COMEDD, provided further details concerning the design and potential applications of his eye-activated data glasses. He began by elaborating on the tracking capabilities of the device.
"We built a beam splitter and aspheric lenses into our data glasses," Dr Herold explained. "The user looks through the beam splitter and sees the real world. At the same time, the beam splitter and the special lenses combine to reflect the movements of their illuminated pupil. This information is then transmitted to the device’s integrated camera. Our demonstration model, for example, simply requires the user to make relative movements towards a point of interest on their display. A big world map is displayed, and a small, eye-operated rectangle represents the point of interest. The user can look to the upper-left corner of the display to see Canada, or to the lower-right corner to focus on Australia."
This principle extends to the eye-operated navigation of other sources of information. For instance, an engineer might wish to have access to instructions whilst performing a particular task. In this situation, the data glasses would allow this person to flick through pages of relevant information without having to stop working on their task.
"Imagine that you are an aeronautic engineer," invited Dr Herold. "You might be working on a particular section of an aeroplane. You know that you have to secure some screws, but you don’t know what your next step will be. In this scenario, your data glasses can identify the correct screws and information concerning the maximum force to be applied can be displayed simultaneously. You have both hands free to adjust the screws with the appropriate amount of force. If you were using a traditional manual, you would have to physically turn the pages in order to identify the correct screws and the appropriate amount of force to be used. With our data glasses, this process becomes much faster and more reliable."
Although impressive, the eye-activated navigation of pertinent information is not the only function offered by the team’s HMDs. As Dr Herold explained, the data glasses could also offer useful applications for the more casual user.
"Our glasses can also be used for translation purposes," he continued. "Imagine that you are at a train station abroad, and you are not familiar with the local language. You need to catch a particular train from a particular platform. In this situation, you could use the data glasses to translate the text that is present in your surroundings. You only have to focus your gaze on a sign and the glasses will directly translate the targeted text into your preferred language. This functionality negates the need to use your hands in order to operate your smartphone’s camera. Indeed, you could say that our data glasses act as a third hand. Whilst other devices such as Google’s data glasses use voice-activated technology to provide similar hands-free functionality, our HMDs offer the advantage of functioning effectively in noisy environments."
I ended our conversation by asking Dr Herold how long he thought it would be before the eye-activated data glasses reach the market. As he explained, this depends on the interest of outside parties.
"The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft is a research institution," he concluded. "As such, it does not tend to directly interest itself in the commercial market. Our mission is to develop ideas, and together with big companies, we bring the resultant products to market. I believe that our data glasses are now ready for this stage of the process. If a company comes along and says that it wants to push this technology to market, we can move forward together. Personally, I think that it will be possible to bring this device to market within the next two years."
The team’s system is currently being displayed at electronica 2012 in Munich.