Using Your Eyes to Navigate the Web

CITEC researchers come in first place with eye gaze-based Internet browser

A computer that can anticipate a human’s every wish by reading their eyes: An innovative solution developed at CITEC for operating an Internet browser was awarded first place at the European Conference on Eye Movements in Vienna, Austria on 21 August 2015. The organizer of the competition was SensoMotoric Instruments, the international manufacturer of eye and gaze tracking systems based in Berlin.

“The ‘BlickBrowser’ we developed expands upon the well-known Internet browser Firefox and allows the user to perform typical actions, such as scrolling or clicking, by simply moving their eyes,” says CITEC researcher Dr. Thies Pfeiffer, under whose supervision computer science graduate student Dimitri Heil developed BlickBrowser in the context of his master’s thesis. “The browser recognizes when one reaches the last line of text at bottom of the screen while reading and scrolls down accordingly. One can navigate to a new page by looking at a link and and making a short confirmatory movement with the eye.” A confirmation can be made, for example, by pausing and keeping one’s eyes focused on the link. In another case, making a selection can be confirmed by the user glancing quickly to the right at a blank field.  

Supervisor Dr. Thies Pfeiffer, Prize-Winner Dimitri Heil (with certificate and SMI Eyetracker award), along with supervisor Patrick Renner (from right). Photo: CITEC. Blickbrowser’s interactive functionality can be integrated in Firefox with a plug-in. If the user has an eye tracker device, she can use the software to operate the browser with her eye movements. Website programmers can integrate the technology into their websites if they so choose. The user should be able to pick the websites where she would like to use Blickbrowser, along with selecting which functions should be activated. For example, a user might only choose to use basic functions like scrolling or selecting. Alternatively, a webpage can be customized using a user’s individual eye movements.

“In this way, detailed information about images, for instance, can be made visible depending on the user’s current focus of attention. The website can thus present its information more neatly and can better adjust to the user’s informational needs,” explains Dr. Thies Pfeiffer. “A similar method already known is the ‘Mouse-over effect’ – when the user navigates with a mouse over an interactive control element and, for example, help information appears shortly after. However, due to the introduction of modern multi-touch technologies, such possibilities for presenting information no longer apply because there is no one standardized finger-over effect. With eye movements, though, this can now happen more intuitively again.”

For people with limited use of their hands, the Blickbrowser is of particular interest: Handicapped individuals can use the technology to more easily surf the Internet. Blickbrowser is also useful in certain fields of work. For example, if a worker’s hands are dirty, like in a factory or in a kitchen, the user can navigate the Internet “hands free.” In addition, BlickBrowser is helpful in cases where one’s hands must remain sterile or if one is holding a tool.

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