The Traveling Eye

  • BY Justin Alvarez

As the holiday season arrives, what I dread the most is the traveling. The long lines, the delays, the terrible weather. If only I knew the best way to navigate through the crowds as I rushed to my departure gate?… Actually, Australian researchers are looking for an answer.

Led by PhD industrial design researcher Andrew Cave, a team at Queensland University of Technology is using Tobii eye-tracking glasses to investigate how people navigate airports as part of the university’s Airports of the Future project that is studying how people use their intuition to navigate their way around airports.


The glasses that volunteers will don will be able to “capture what you look at and what your eyes focus on while you’re moving through an airport terminal,” Cave told A tiny camera on one arm of the glasses is attached to a small recording device tucked in a pocket or clipped to a volunteer’s clothes. The participants will be given a travel scenario and followed by Cave and his team.

“We’re interested in what clues people intuitively use to navigate their way through an airport, and what the distractions are,” added Cave. So what is the researching hoping to find? Cave added, “We will use these experiments to help develop recommendations on how to improve the passenger navigation experience, which we hope airports throughout Australia will adopt.”

While the concept isn’t exactly groundbreaking, the Tobii glasses provide a sleek alternative to alternatives that require either a helmet or a camera attached to an extended rod. There are some limitations: both cameras operate at 640×480 resolution at 30 frames per second, which is similar to mobile and webcam quality but can be slow when utilizing eye-tracking. However, the small factor is key here. The Tobii lenses are coated with a specialized dielectric mirror filter. Transparent to the eye, it passes visible light but reflects the infrared camera image—similar to privacy window film, just reversed. IR-based AOA-Track™ technology is used to map eye-tracking data to real world objects.

Now, while Cave’s study is focused within Australia, technology like this has the potential to answer how we travel, shop, and much more globally.