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A Little Eye Tracking Research History

A Little Eye Tracking Research History

eye tracking research history

Did you know the first studies of eye movements happened as early as 1879? There were hypotheses that visual preferences could be determined by eye movements, but not evidence other than introspection to support them. Parisian ophthalmologist, Louis Émile Javal was the first to discover that eyes didn’t move in smoothly as they scanned text, and so the field of eye tracking research began. Eye movement research has sure evolved since its primitive beginnings in the late 1800s. The thought of enduring the early eye tracking methodologies makes me cringe! Have you ever heard about what they did back then?

One of Javal’s first studies on eye movements during reading tasks used a microphone attached to one eyelid to detect fixations and saccades. The microphone was placed on a closed eyelid, and a saccade was counted when the bulge of the cornea bumped it through the eyelid as the person read with the other eye. For psychology researcher and professor Edmond Delabarre, these findings were not objective enough. He wanted actual measurements of eye motions. To accomplish this, he put a mound of plaster of Paris in his eye, which was “sufficiently cocainized.” A wire ran from the plaster cap to a lever which drew horizontal lines as the eye moved. He read text through a hole in the cap with his eyelids propped open. Doesn’t the mental picture of this remind you of a something from a horror film? But don’t worry; Delabarre reported that he didn’t experience any ill effects after a week of recuperation. Imagine that!

By comparison, even our modern wearable eye trackers and head mounted systems seem infinitely more comfortable and unobtrusive. I just wanted to share this little piece of eye tracking research history, so you could appreciate how far we’ve come with our modern eye tracking technology.

Eye Tracking Research

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