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Imec, Holst Centre devise low-cost method of precise REM detection

17 May 2017

Electrode-based technology paves the way to economical augmented- and virtual reality applications.

Imec, the research and innovation hub in nanoelectronics and digital technologies, and Holst Centre (set up jointly by imec and TNO) have developed a sensing technology to detect eye movement in real time based on electrical sensing.

The partners say it paves the way for the next generation of eye-tracking technology, and that the system has promising applications in the fields of virtual and augmented reality.

Today’s eye movement detection technology makes use of high-resolution cameras embedded in eye-tracking screens or glasses. Such devices are already being commercialized for numerous applications, including healthcare, research and gaming.

While camera-based solutions can accurately determine where users are looking, most cameras’ frame rates are not fast enough to match the eye’s most rapid movements, such as saccades – a typical switching movement made during reading.

However, using a more sophisticated camera to match the eyes’ speed in such transitions would significantly increase the already high cost of these devices, say the partners, and could restrict their commercial use. Imec’s new solution, based on electrical sensing, offers a much more inexpensive alternative, while solving the issue of the image processing delay.

Electrodes

Imec’s sensors were integrated into a pair of spectacles, with four built-in electrodes around each lens; two to track the eye’s vertical movement and two for horizontal movements. In parallel to that, an advanced algorithm was developed to translate these signals into a concrete position, based on the angle the eye makes with its central point of vision.

Imec’s solution also offers insights on the eye’s behavior, such the speed of movement or the frequency and duration of blinks.

“Human eyes have a natural electrical potential,” said Gabriel Squillace, researcher in the Biomedical Applications & Systems group at imec. “At imec, we are leveraging this feature to develop the next-generation of eye-movement detection devices that can detect the eye’s position in real time at a five times lower cost and up to four times faster than what is currently available on the market.

”Our ultimate goal is to develop a solution that can track the eye’s most rapid movements, such as saccades, enabling seamless real time tracking for AR and VR applications.”

Other applications

Other possible applications for this technology include a complement to current camera-based solutions, potentially developing cheaper and faster eye-movement detection devices.

Currently being tested and showing promising results on eye behavior and blink detection, users are able to interact with screens by moving the cursor with their eyes and using different blinking patterns for distinct actions, such as selecting files, drag-and-dropping or opening and closing applications.

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