More news on Apple patents – earlier this week, Apple was finally awarded a patent for a graphical user interface based on gaze tracking, and there are thoughts that this could be implemented in many future Apple devices including iPhones, iPads, Mac computers and even the Apple TV in time.
The patent addresses a phenomenon known as the Troxler Effect or Troxler’s fading, which relates to human peripheral vision. Basically, objects which are at the periphery of vision appear to fade away, and this is caused by the image becoming stabilised on our retina, and our brain effectively ignores the image. This phenomenon can make gaze tracking system ineffective as if you fix your eyes on an object such as your computer cursor, and continue to track it around the screen, it will vanish from sight.
What is the Troxler Effect?
Here is an example of Troxler’s fading, give it a try, it’s really interesting. Stare at the cross in the centre and see what happens to the lilac dots around the outside of the circle. A similar effect can be observed if you look at a section of tiled floor or wall – if you keep your eyes still, you may begin to see the lines between the tiles gradually fade away at the periphery of your vision.
Any gaze-based tracking system needs to be able to cope with this visual phenomenon, which means it needs to be reactive enough to respond instantly on screen to even small changes in the user’s gaze – this is what the latest patent aims to achieve through a combination of software and hardware solutions. The hardware involves eye-tracking plus measurement of viewing angle and distance, detecting when the user is blinking. The software anticipates when fade is likely to occur, and can work quickly enough to move the cursor during the blink and therefore stop the fade before it even begins.
What could gaze tracking be used for?
There are many uses for this type of technology, and the patent which was first applied for in 2012 with David P. Julian credited as the inventor, mentions use for iOS devices and the Mac laptop. However, there is a view, first expressed in early 2014, that the Apple TV could be in line for a re-design using this gaze tracking technology in association with voice control, meaning a truly hands free controlled device.
The rumours about a ‘joystick’ for the Home button on the Apple iPhone 7 centred around physical touch technology, but this patent just goes to prove that Apple are not keeping all their eggs in one basket, and are still keen to explore all available (and some not yet available) options.