The new adverts that “track what you are looking at”

1st May 2013

Have any of you ever felt advertisement posters with people on them are watching you through their eyes?  I can’t be the only one surely?

Last week I wrote about the new function on the Samsung Galaxy S4 that tracked your eye movements, allowing you to pause videos by glancing away from the screen, and scroll up and down the page simply by moving your eyes in that general direction on the screen.

This week’s big news as we enter another new month, is that researchers at Lancaster University have created an advertising system that is capable of tracking your eye movements as you shop.

The “Sideways” project locates faces and eye movements of people in supermarkets using a camera and newly developed software.  Video screens nearby will then change adverts depending on what you look at in the shop.

Apparently the pioneering technology can track up to 14 people at once and could be in use in major UK supermarkets within the next 5 years.   Similar to the technology on the new S4 smartphone, customers would be able to scroll through items on a list just using their eyes to control the on-screen content.  Current systems only allow one user at a time and require a lengthy setup to calibrate the eye tracker to that specific user.

Lead researcher, Andreas Bulling, explains that “calibration is a major stumbling block for interactive gaze-based applications…it’s time consuming and annoying”.  With “Sideways”, no calibration is necessary, which is why it allows so many users at once.  The new video demonstrating the system shows users scrolling through lists of albums in a music shop using only their eye movements.

Whilst this development is certainly one of the hottest topics in the technological world, it does raise some concerns over privacy that these systems are tracking the behavior of customers without their consent, or necessarily their knowledge.

Bulling defends this, claiming, “If the system is only there to improve the shopping experience, customers will probably be fine with such a system”.

I guess only time will tell how shoppers react to this new presence in their retail experience.