You’ve all heard me say, “The more you can see, the more you can do.” It’s Peddie’s Second Law. I have four screens on my desk; I think you’ve all seen the pictures. There’s one to left of my laptop, one to right, and above it. The screens are 20-inch 1680 x 1050. I use a track ball to mouse around (doctor’s orders). And I spend too much time spinning that little ball getting from the far left screen to far right or elsewhere.
My laptop is an HP dv9050 and sitting in the center top bezel is a camera. I’ve used it on occasion to chat with Kathleen over IM. Other than that, it just sits there quietly watching me like the red eyed HAL.
I want HAL to work more, earn his keep. I want HAL to follow my eyes and, when I look away from the document in focus (i.e., selected), I want the mouse pointer to go where I’m looking. I’ve got Smart mouse turned on so it snaps to the default button in a dialog box when one comes up, and that helps. It would be better if all programs, including Microsoft’s, worked the same way so the mouse knew when an action came up, but that’s a rant for another time.
Now, such an operation will be tricky, but I think doable. As long as you don’t change focus on an app, the mouse pointer can go anywhere without affect or effect. So if, in the course of creating a document, my eyes wander (as does my attention) there’s no harm done by the mouse arrow dancing around on the screen. And, as many of you know, you can have more than one mouse in operation. You’ve learned this when your thumb rests on the touch pad of your laptop. The protocol is that the last mouse wins. In my eye tracker, manual mouse always wins, so there needs to be a touch sensor on the base of the mouse to indicate that you’ve got your hand on it. The operation would then be like this. I’m loading numbers into a spreadsheet which is opened on the right-hand screen. I need to copy a number from a web page that is on the left-hand screen. I look at the left-hand screen and find the number, and the mouse pointer following my eyes gets near it. It doesn’t have to be exact. I lay my hand on the mouse, and the eye tracker releases the pointer leaving it where it is, and then I use the mouse for fine control. I now have the copied number and look at my spreadsheet (with my hand off the mouse) and snap-a-rudy, the mouse pointer pops over to the spreadsheet, etc.
Now if a $200 Wii can understand what my hands are doing, and a PSP, with the help of a cheap camera, can see my head up close and personal, my web cam should be able to see my eyes and follow their direction. It’s easy. There’s that little blue dot in the center of that big (mostly) white glob, and it’s redundant, one on each side of my nose. And a touch sensor in a mouse is nothing, a simple capacitor.
So get to work Logitech, Microsoft, and HP. Help me do more by seeing more and mousing less.
Some of the technology I’m looking for already exists, and some of it is being used in physiological studies.
- Eyetracking Research
- Sony 98047 Playstation Eye Ps3
- Wikipedia Eye tracking
- EyeTracking Inc. Technology with a vision
While waiting for someone to build my eye tracker, we’ve experimented with a head tracker that requires me to turn my head, and learn to be more precise in my positioning. I don’t think this is the final answer.
Adobe and Vista rant
A Dumb Obtuse Balky Executable, ADOBE, crashes a Very Incompatible Stubborn Touchy Application—VISTA. Speaking of mousing around, I have a problem with Adobe 9 and Vista 64. Clicking on a link that requires Acrobat to load often causes my system to freeze, and I lose my mouse. What good is a computer without a mouse? I lose the keyboard too, so it’s a dead machine with all the displays lit up and nowhere to go. I know it’s my fault. After all, I’m asking two alien entities to work together at the same time in the same space—how dumb is that?
But I’m trainable. I have now learned to postpone any calling of Acrobat until I’m finished doing anything important, make sure everything is saved, and then try CALLING Acrobat. If it crashes (about every fourth time, randomly) I can recover. But my doctor says I’ve got to cut down on the coffee. “Find something else to do when your machine crashes,” he said.