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Cornell’s Acoustic-Based Eye Tracking and Facial Expression Monitoring

Breakthrough in Wearable Tech: Cornell’s Acoustic-Based Eye Tracking and Facial Expression Monitoring

In a remarkable feat of engineering and innovation, researchers at Cornell University have unveiled two groundbreaking technologies that could revolutionize the way we interact with virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) environments.

The first innovation, dubbed “GazeTrak,” is the world’s first eye-tracking system that utilizes acoustic signals instead of traditional camera-based approaches. By positioning speakers and microphones around the frame of a pair of glasses, the GazeTrak system can continuously monitor a user’s eye movements, offering a solution that is more privacy-conscious and energy-efficient than existing camera-based alternatives.

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“It’s small, it’s cheap and super low-powered, so you can wear it on smartglasses everyday – it won’t kill your battery,” said Cheng Zhang, the assistant professor of information science who directs the Smart Computer Interfaces for Future Interactions (SciFi) Lab that developed the new devices.

The second technology, “EyeEcho,” represents an equally impressive breakthrough. This system, also designed for wearable devices like smartglasses, can continuously track a user’s facial expressions and recreate them in real-time through a digital avatar. By using a single speaker and microphone positioned near the hinges of the glasses, EyeEcho can capture the subtle skin movements associated with changes in facial expression, enabling a more natural and immersive VR/AR experience.

“In a VR environment, you want to recreate detailed facial expressions and gaze movements so that you can have better interactions with other users,” explained Ke Li, the doctoral student who led the development of both GazeTrak and EyeEcho.

These groundbreaking technologies address several key challenges in the field of wearable computing. By leveraging acoustic signals rather than cameras, the Cornell researchers have found a way to address privacy concerns that have long plagued camera-based systems. Additionally, the low power consumption of these devices makes them well-suited for integration into lightweight, everyday wearables like smartglasses.

“The privacy concerns associated with systems that use video will become more and more important as VR/AR headsets become much smaller and, ultimately, similar to today’s smartglasses,” said co-author François Guimbretière, professor of information science at Cornell Bowers CIS and the Department of Design Tech.

Beyond their immediate applications in enhancing VR/AR experiences, these technologies also hold the potential to revolutionize other areas, such as screen readers for people with low vision and the monitoring of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

As the world of wearable computing continues to evolve, the innovations from Cornell University’s SciFi Lab stand as a testament to the power of forward-thinking research and the relentless pursuit of technological solutions that prioritize both functionality and privacy.

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