From wire-free 3D TVs to web-connected wine cellars, Haier's IFA 2012 stand is one of the show's most diverse offerings. An obvious highlight is the Chinese manufacturer's Eye Control TV, a television controlled solely through the movement of the eyes and blinking. We tried it out and share our thoughts here.
The Eye Control TV user sits in front of a sensor roughly three feet away, which is hooked up to a television via a standard Windows 7 PC. Things kick off with a short calibration process, asking the viewer to follow a series of orange spots on the screen as the sensor adjusts itself to their eyes' movements.
After this point, the viewer is in control. Focussing eyes on key points of the screen activates UI elements, with a long, deliberate blink making selections. For instance, hovering over the bottom left corner of the screen brings up the volume bar, and looking intently at the buttons on either end of the volume slider adjusts the sound. This technique also allows the user to scroll through programmes and movies and (with the set also being web-connected) social networking feeds such as Facebook and Twitter. Raised up from a tabletop on a short stand and roughly a foot wide, there's absolutely no need to touch the sensor at all.
If you're a long-time Tech Digest reader (and so you should be!) and this sounds familiar, that's because it's using technology built in partnership with Tobii, the Swedish company that wowed us at the end of last year with their EyeAsteroids arcade machine. You can view our hands-on video of the game here.
Speaking of the Tobii game last year, we said:
"It almost feels like the game is reading your mind, as the way we chose to focus our gaze on items in the world is so closely linked to the lightning-fast way our brain reacts to make decisions and interact."It's exactly the same feeling with Haier's Eye Control TV; no sooner had we thought about making an adjustment to volume or switching to another program than the sensor had already registered and made good on our intentions.
As with other products that use the Tobii technology, the application is obvious; for those who live with disabilities that make movement and lifting difficult, they'll be able to throw away their remote controls and enjoy controlling their televisions with comfort. It has the potential to make television viewing far more accessible for some people.
Not quite ready for market yet, Haier are looking into fine-tuning the UI so that its integrated into the television, rather than accessed through a connected PC, as well as the possibility of integrating the sensor into the bezel of the screen (though this may need a far more sensitive sensor to achieve).There will of course be potential problems to overcome before the Eye Control TV goes mainstream. Previous applications of the Tobii technology that we've encountered have been in devices that are intended for personal use, in laptops and computer monitors. Even the EyeAsteroids game was to be played by one person at a time. With television viewing being often a social experience, Haier will have to work out a way to isolate one controller in a room full of eyes. There's the potential for even a pet owner's dog to affect your viewing here. Facial recognition is almost certainly the next step in highlighting who should or shouldn't be given control of the set.
But again we've come away impressed by the potential of the technology. Tobii have done the groundwork, and Haier are forward-thinking enough to bring it to the living room. With our eyes already focussed on the set when watching television, controlling it solely with our peepers rather than a remote control and our hands seems the logical, natural step forward. Watching television may soon become an even lazier pastime, and we're not going to argue against that on a sleepy Sunday afternoon.
Tech Digest travelled to IFA 2012 as guests of Haier.