Imagine swooping and nodding your head to play a game or scrolling down a page and dialing mom with a subtle eye gesture. Movement-tracking technology isn't new, but it's certainly gaining traction.
There's Samsung Galaxy phone Smart Scroll, Xbox Kinect motion camera, Leap Motion Controller and now Umoove, a lesser known Jerusalem-based start-up. Umoove has been developing a unique algorithm that can detect facial and eye movements in real time since 2010.
Umoove was founded by three engineers - Yitzi Kempinski, Tuvia Elbaum and Nir Blushtein - and first came on the scene with an iOS game called Flying Experience. The game is a simple app that uses your iPhone or iPad's front-facing camera to track your head movements as you fly around and gather potions in a Prince of Persia-style desert. The game also incorporates touch gestures for an all-encompassing gaming experience, with the touches used to control flight speed.
In another application, you follow a map by focusing on a red dot on the screen and guide it just by looking where you want to go.
"You are constantly looking at the screen, so why shouldn't it become the interface?" Kempinski posed to TechRadar when we visited Umoove in Jerusalem.
A camera and your peepers
It's quite an experience to have your gadget understand you without telling it anything verbally or with touch commands, and it certainly adds a whole new dimension to the gaming landscape.
Umoove's technology not only works better than just about any similar consumer offerings out there but also requires no additional hardware. And though it's only available on iOS for now, it is coming soon to Android and is essentially compatible with any device that has a front-facing snapper.
The tech calibrates the position of a user's eyes and remembers where they are for future use.
Umoove's system is sensitive enough to operate even in a dark room with only the light coming from the iPad screen. Coincidentally, that's where Umoove's next bit of technology comes in. The company built its tracking technology to facilitate the challenges in mobile environments such as shakiness, lighting and limited hardware resources.
"The Umoove technology runs at a CPU as low as 5% in real-time and needs nothing but the raw frames of the front-facing camera for input," Kempinski said.
"It adds another layer of interaction on top of the touch interface you already have on your mobile devices," he continued.
The technology was initially developed to assist disabled persons and was actually formed around one of the start-up's founders who has a relative with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a disease that eventually causes paralysis, making it impossible to use today's mobile devices.
Umoove uses an analysis of eye movement to help get a better understanding of your attention, interest and engagement based on the behavior of your pupils. The technology opens up a slew of possibilities, such as activating different parts of the screen based on where you're looking. Imagine using just your gaze to select characters for a game or to toggle options in an app.
"Eye tracking is mainly about understanding the user without him even actively interacting," Kempinski said.
The Umoove tracking tool is applicable to numerous facets of our modern world, including gaming, advertising, analytics, eye wear, security and medicine.
Kempinski noted there are a many neurological diagnoses that can be done using eye movement as well as other conditions that can be diagnosed through the eye.
For example, Umoove could be used to help diagnose autism. Autistic children avoid looking at faces in an image or video when compared with children without the condition, Kempinski said. Though details have yet to be established, he also said that Umoove is currently working on implementing its technologies with a big eye wear company as well as a medical school.
Additionally, an advertising company could use the Umoove technology to determine how long a user's eyes lingered on a particular ad.
Umoove plans to unveil new eye-tracking technology in the next few months that will use the existing camera in your phone or tablet.
Several companies are already requesting the SDK, ranging from large corporations to small indie developers targeting diverse products, such as games, advertising, mobile OEMs and children's apps. Umoove's EyeSDK is in beta stage and is currently open to select strategic partners, Kempinski said.
Umoove has raised around $3 million (about £1.7m, AU$3.19m) in total funding thus far and plans to launch a mobile healthcare product in the next few months.
Last year, Samsung introduced some basic head and eye tracking capabilities on the Galaxy S4, but it's nothing like what Umoove has cooked up. The firm's take takes mobile device tracking to the next level with far more extensive capabilities, and opens it to the creativity of developers.
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Jessica Naziri is a tech expert, online media personality and accomplished journalist covering the intersection between technology and culture. She is a self-proclaimed "chic geek," who turned her passion into a career, working as an technology reporter. You can follow her on Twitter @jessicanaziri or email her: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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