The Japanese wireless carrier NTT DoCoMo has recently developed and demonstrated a peculiar pair of headphones that can precisely detect a user's eye movements without a camera, and use those movements to control electronic devices such as mobile phones and portable music players.
DoCoMo started working on this idea back in 2008 by adapting an electrooculogram (EOG), a medical device used for measuring eye response, to their purposes. An EOG works on the principle that the human cornea has a positive electrical charge. As the user looks to the left or right, the charge shifts in the space between the user's ears – a change that can be easily detected by appropriate sensors.
When, two years back, the company first announced its work on this technology, the end product was a very bulky and unappealing pair of headphones. Now, however, DoCoMo has managed to shrink all of the necessary parts into an ordinary-looking pair of earphones, making the product much more attractive to the masses. As demonstrated in the video below, users can simply move their eyes from right to left to pause music, twice to the right to skip a song, roll their eyes clockwise to raise the volume, and so on.
Of course, the same technology could be easily adapted to control a mobile phone or, for that matter, a number of other electronic devices. But the question remains as to how users would be able to prevent regular eye movements from being interpreted as commands. There is no mention from the company of a locking command to prevent casual glances from being registered, which means you'd have to be careful where you look at any given time. It's also clear that this technology would be too dangerous as a hands-free driving solution, as it would require you to constantly take your eyes off the road.
A third, perhaps less serious concern, is that you may get a few stares from the people around you as you start shifting and rolling your eyes for no apparent reason. But at least this concern has an easy solution – according to the company, the earphones can pick up inputs even when your eyes are closed.
DoCoMo says it doesn't yet have plans to get the technology into the market, perhaps in order to get these and other minor problems sorted first. One thing's for certain, though: should the company find a solution to these issues, particularly how to intelligently sort out the commands from the normal glances without laying the burden on the user, it would make for one of the most futuristic sets of controls yet.