Xuuk Inc. unveiled an "eye counting" video camera last week that could enable the highly successful Google advertising-revenue model to be extended to brick-and-mortar advertisers.
The system consists of a palm-size video camera surrounded by infrared light-emitting diodes and a Universal Serial Bus interface. Software running on an attached computer can determine whether someone is looking at the camera by recognizing the "red eye" spot, which only appears when a viewer gazes at the camera directly.
Using its PageRank technology, Google Inc. (Mountain View, Calif.) has been able to collect revenue from advertisers based on the number of user "clicks" per online ad. With the Eyebox technology, brick-and-mortar advertisers would be able to determine how many times a billboard in a mall corridor or a product display on a store shelf drew the direct gaze of passersby, counting those views in the same way Google counts clicks.
If placed on a store shelf, the Xuuk camera must be mounted directly adjacent to each product in order to register properly. In addition, products have to be spaced some distance apart, depending on how far away the customer will be standing. For instance, products must be spaced about a meter apart if viewed from 3 meters away (the technology has an eye-contact detection accuracy of 8.5° at that distance).
It is possible to track eye movements today, but the laboratory setups to do so cost $25,000 and up. In addition, the viewer must be no more than 2 feet away and must remain stationary, and the setup must be calibrated for each individual. Xuuk (Kingston, Ontario) claims to have extended the range of the Eyebox to 32 feet and to have eliminated the need for personal calibration. Further, people walking by don't have to stop in front of an ad in order to be counted, according to Xuuk.
Because the light is infrared, the user is unaware of being observed. Xuuk emphasizes that no data is collected on the identity of the user. Instead, the device simply counts how many people per day have looked at an ad or product.
By using a separate Eyebox for each billboard or product on a shelf, facilities that display ads could charge advertisers on a "per look" basis.
Xuuk is in discussions with Google, according to Xuuk founder and CEO Roel Vertegaal, though Google would not confirm that talks are under way.
Vertegaal is director of the Human Media Laboratory at Queen's University (Kingston). He invented the Eyebox as part of the lab's Attentive User Interfaces project. The aim of the research was to make computers attentive to their users by sensing when to interact with them.
In addition to the advertising application, the Attentive User Interfaces project aims to make computers, cell phones and household appliances more attentive to their users.
The Xuuk camera measures 3.5 x 3.5 x1 5/8 inches and will be priced at $999 until July 1, when the price will go up. It is available now from www.xuuk.com.