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Google gobbles startup that claims its tech is like a mind reader (gulp)

Chocolate Factory has acquired Eyefluence to watch you watch VR

By Thomas Claburn, 25 Oct 2016

Not content to track people's activities online, Google plans to read their minds.

On Monday, Eyefluence, a three-year-old startup that develops eye-interaction software for virtual reality and augmented reality applications, said it is joining Google.

"With our forces combined, we will continue to advance eye-interaction technology to expand human potential and empathy on an even larger scale," Eyefluence said in a blog post. "We look forward to the life-changing innovations we'll create together!"

A Google spokesperson confirmed the deal to The Register but declined to elaborate on its plans for the company. No price was disclosed.

Google has had an interest in eye tracking for years, because the technology offers a window into what people are thinking.

"To help us get some insight into this split-second decision-making process, we use eye-tracking equipment in our usability labs," explained Anne Aula and Kerry Rodden, Google user experience researchers, in a 2009 blog post. "This lets us see how our study participants scan the search results page, and is the next best thing to actually being able to read their minds."

In April, Eyefluence framed its own technology in similarly mystical terms. "Eyefluence eye-interaction really does work so fast it seems to know what you want as it comes into your mind," Robert Rohm, Eyefluence testing technician, said in a blog post.

Mind-reading may seem redundant for Google, given what it already knows about people through search histories, website visits, ad impressions, and Gmail messages. But that information, helpful though it may be for targeting ads, can't help anticipate what someone wearing a Google VR headset wants to do through a visual interface. That's where Eyefluence comes in.

Eye tracking for usability concerns the past – what was done – so that designers and engineers can improve the way people interact with their software. Eyefluence's technology has the potential to reveal the future – what people intend to do. It informs the interface layer rather than backend analytics.

Rohm said that in the past, eye-tracking as a means of registering application input has been problematic because blink activation – using blinks to trigger events – and dwell time – staring at an onscreen item to trigger some action – proved too aggravating or tiring. Eyefluence's technology, he said, has solved those issues.

Given Google's ardent interest in VR and AR – exemplified by its Daydream platform, Cardboard, Expeditions, Jump, and investments in firms like Magic Leap – some measure of mind-reading could prove useful.

And if VR content ever becomes popular enough to warrant the integration of sponsored content, Google can probably figure out ways to make eye-tracking useful for its advertising business. ®

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