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Apple patents new eye-tracking technology to combat the Troxler Effect

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The United States Patent and Trademark Office has granted Apple a patent today, one that the company first filed for back in April of 2012. According to AppleInsider, the patent details a new kind of eye-tracking technology that would allow user to control their computer, smartphone, or tablet without actually touching any of the device. Specifically, the patent involves a method that would ensure that users don’t lose track of the device’s cursor while they’re controlling it using the eye-tracking technology.

The patent credits David P. Julian as the inventor of this method, and explains that this technology may be implemented in future iPad, iPhone, and Mac devices and would allow them to track their user’s eye movements and then translate them into on-screen cursor movements. While the it doesn’t elaborate on the potential uses of this technology too much, the patent briefly mentions that advancements in this technology could see it used in everything from vehicles to video game consoles.

One of the biggest focuses of the patent is combatting the Troxler Effect, which is an optical effect that causes objects in a person’s peripheral vision to fade away when that person is focusing on a particular point on a screen. While this doesn’t have any detrimental effects to us, it does make retina-tracking technology very difficult to implement, as it required users to focus on numerous interface prompts on their screen in order to work properly.

A more in-depth explanation can be found on the Background section of the patent:

“Troxler fading is a phenomenon of visual perception that the human brain uses to cope with blind spots on the retina, which is the light-sensitive tissue lining of the inner surface of the eye. One result of this phenomenon is that when one fixates on a particular point, objects in one’s peripheral vision will fade away and disappear. Another result related to this phenomenon is the perceived fading of a fixated stimulus when its retinal image is made stationary on the retina, which is otherwise known as a stabilized retinal image. This perceived fading causes the stimulus to fade away after a short time and effectively disappear to the viewer (i.e., the person whose retina is capturing and perceiving the fixed stimulus).”

Apple hopes to combat the Troxler Effect by monitoring both the blinking patterns and eye movements of the user in order to estimate when they’re losing track of the cursor due to the effect, which it would then counteract by automatically bringing the cursor back to visibility.

Considering how I’ve never used any kind of eye-tracking system myself, I can’t exactly attest to the usefulness of Apple’s new method, but its good to see them killing the problem in the womb. As with all patents, however, you shouldn’t expect to see this technology popping up in Apple’s products anytime soon. Nonetheless, it’s certainly interesting to see one off the possible features we could see in future Apple products.

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