Eyebox2 is watching you

Xuuk's eyeball-tracking device could revolutionize OOH advertising by measuring how many people actually look at billboards.

Be careful the next time you look at a billboard – it just might be looking back. The eyebox2 is a device that monitors eye movements from as far away as 10 metres, allowing advertisers to measure how many people actually look at a billboard or plasma panel.

‘I think it will revolutionize the market,’ eyebox2 inventor Roel Vertegaal tells MiC. ‘One of the issues in the advertising industry is that no one is sure where the eyeballs are going. With TiVos and DVRs, people can skip ads, and there’s a lot of uncertainty. You can buy a newspaper ad, but who’s going to tell you how many people looked at it? What’s cool about this is that we can make it interactive and provide that information.’

The eyebox2 uses an infrared camera to track and photograph eyeball movements. ‘You know when you use flash photography and people get red eyes? Normally, you would use photo editing software to get rid of that,’ Vertegaal explains. ‘Our software works the same way, except it solicits a red eye in people standing in front of it, and uses it.’

Vertegaal is the director of the Human Media Laboratory at Queen’s University, in Kingston, Ont. and CEO of Xuuk, which will manufacture and market the device along with Parteq, which commercializes inventions coming out of the university. They expect to sell the device for the relatively rock-bottom price of $999, beginning later this year. So far, the only thing they’ve tackled is a word-of-mouth campaign, which began with the announcement to news media that Vertegaal had presented his invention to Google.

‘After the presentation, we went from zero to 311,000 hits on Google in two weeks,’ says Vertegaal. ‘We’ve been swamped by requests, because the advertising market appears to by dying for this. So we’re now following up on conversations. We’ve had some pre-sales, but it’s too early to talk about details.’

The inventor insists that any lurking Big Brother-type fears are unfounded. ‘We only use the pictures to find eyeballs and discard them after 1/15 of a second. Our technology is no different from a door sensor that detects your presence and opens the door for you – except (this device) will know whether you’re looking at that door or not.’

Still, the mind boggles at future applications. ‘We decided not to incorporate iris scanning,’ says Vertegaal. ‘We don’t need to know the identity of the people looking at the ad. That’s for other companies to do. And when that happens, we’re happy to tag along, but we’re not interested in moving in that direction if it’s not necessary.’