6 February, 2023

How Eye Tracking Helps Researchers More Efficiently Analyze Human Behavior

Smart Eye develops the world’s most advanced eye tracking technology for behavioral research in complex test environments. Thanks to its unparalleled performance in complex situations, our eye trackers offer deep insights into human behavior in automotive, aviation, assistive technology, behavioral science and many more fields.

Hundreds of companies, research organizations and universities all over the world use Smart Eye’s technology to reach new behavioral research breakthroughs. Today, our technology is powering innovation at NASA, Airbus, Boeing, Volvo, Daimler, Audi, GM, Harvard University and many more.

While many eye tracking systems track on a single screen, we do that but go much further. Our high end eye trackers are best suited for more sophisticated environments involving multiple screens or a cockpit, and it works best when the test subject is either seated or semi-stationary, such as a driver or a pilot.

How does Smart Eye’s Technology Work for Human factors? 

Our flagship product is called the Smart Eye Pro. It is a non-intrusive, head and eye tracking multi-camera system that can be scaled up to eight cameras, which allows it to fit in almost any test environment. We also have the XO, which is an all-in-one camera solution, so the cameras and the flashes are all built into one small box that utilizes the same interface as Smart Eye Pro, but it’s built for not only single screens but can track around the screen as well. Lastly, we provide a number of peripherals that can do other things, like screen grabbing for instance, where you can do a gaze overlay directly on a video display. We have another product called Smart Recorder, which does a gaze overlay outside of a cockpit onto a video camera image. That allows you to do gaze tracking outside the vehicle and inside the vehicle.

Smart Eye got its start in the automotive industry and has been working in it for over 20 years. We are a unique company in that we can support automotive companies from research to development, validation and even into production. Today we have over 19 global manufacturers and over 190 vehicles that will be launching with the Smart Eye Driver Monitoring System. 

On the automotive research side, we do driver monitoring and driver performance evaluations. We do a lot of work with HMI researchers for development for things like infotainment design, cluster design and heads-up displays. 

The use of eye tracking in the aviation industry has also grown significantly in the last 5-10 years, both for pilot and crew monitoring, as well as pilot performance and training. Our Smart Eye Pro product has been instrumental in applications to decrease the time to train a pilot and to improve the capabilities of pilot training. 

The practical applications of eye tracking in human factors research

We have a number of aviation customers: FAA, NASA, US Air Force, US Navy. All of the US and Canadian military branches utilize Smart Eye Pro for a lot of their research applications. We have also branched into other areas such as the medical field, as well as neuroscience and psychology research. 

When researchers conduct age-based studies and face potentially challenging subjects like children or the elderly, the methodology of collecting data becomes important. If you are using a more traditional eye tracker, children may not want to wear something on their head and headgear can easily get bumped during testing. Smart Eye Pro allows for completely naturalistic eye tracking, meaning test subjects do not need to wear clumsy headgear or have wires attached. And with the elderly, they often wear glasses: most eye tracking systems don’t allow you to wear glasses underneath the eye trackers. Smart Eye Pro can help overcome these challenges.

One farm equipment manufacturer uses our technology for product design. They were interested in monitoring driver gaze within the cab as well as outside of the cab, which is a challenging research task. Using the Smart Eye Smart Recorder tool on top of our Smart Eye Pro product, we were able to provide gaze overlay inside the cab as well as outside the cab using additional cameras to scale the system to expand the field-of-view to meet their research objectives. The manufacturer understood the advantages of using the Smart Eye 3D world model to greatly simplify their research process. The World Model is simply a 3D wireframe of the test environment allowing key objects to be drawn and named. Many eye tracking systems provide eye position and gaze vectors, however they require the researcher to continuously calculate where that gaze is intersecting the environment which can be extremely time consuming especially when the head and eyes are constantly moving. By using the Smart Eye 3D model, the manufacturer was able to determine what the driver / operator was looking at without having to perform time-consuming calculations!

The Smart Eye Difference

Another case study involved Realtime Technologies (RTI), a division of FAAC located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and that specializes in research and training simulators. Smart Eye has been working with RTI for several years, and they have integrated the Smart Eye Pro data stream into their simulators to provide real-time gaze visibility on both stationary and dynamic objects on the simulator screen. 

This capability essentially allows the researcher to understand exactly what the driver is looking at, as the objects are highlighted (and viewed objects are captured in the data) when the driver looks at those items on the screen. This is a huge advantage to reduce post-processing time, since researchers no longer have to determine the eye position, the gaze vectors and calculate where those gaze vectors are intersecting: the eye tracking system and RTI SIM does it for you. 

Additionally, the robustness of Smart Eye output data is a real differentiator.  Since we use infrared light rather than ambient light, we are not impacted by changing light conditions. This allows a robust data flow in complete darkness or in sunlight.

Lastly, the ease of data access is a huge selling point for researchers in addition to the fully naturalistic data collection experience. We allow researchers to easily log their data and to  stream the data through UDP or TCP.  We also provide an API that allows our clients to control the system remotely. Read more about remote eye tracking here. 


The Bottom Line

There’s a broad range of eye trackers that perform well in specific applications. If you are doing research, make sure you are buying a product designed specifically to assist researchers, in that it will have the accuracy, performance and the capabilities needed for your project’s success. 

Interested in eye tracking for human factor research? Listen to our podcast on the topic here, or contact us to learn more. 

Written by Ashley McManus
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