Eye-tracking technology helps marketers and medical professionals alike

The special glasses track a person's eye movement while shopping, among other uses. (Photo: ABC7)

An old, oft-quoted adage suggests that the eyes are the window to the soul. To marketers and brands, though, your eyes may be the window into their profits.

That's why one company is targeting your eyes for market research. While touch technology in devices such as the iPhone and iPad has changed the way we use our gadgets, the next leap forward in how we use everything from computers to cars may be ocular.

Invivo BVA, a New York-based market research firm, is using a pair of special infrared eye-tracking glasses to see what a shopper may see while browsing the aisles of a store. From the first glance, to a lingering gaze and to the point where a product is picked, the technology literally helps determine how everything from shampoo to soda is packaged and sold.

"You noticed it for a weren't exploring and you found it," Invivo BVA President and CEO John Traynor said. "Something caught your eye. We really want to understand what that is."

Product marketing and design isn't the only thing this technology is used for. Microsoft used it when designing Windows 7. Yahoo! and Amazon also used it when they freshened up their look. However, that's just the beginning when it comes to examining how the eye trains on a computer screen.

Tobii North America, which is based in Falls Church, makes a laptop and glasses that let you operate the computer with your eyes. They say that within a decade, the technology could be in your car.

"It can detect if you're getting drowsy (or) distracted," Tobii North America GM Barbara Barclay said. "It can be used for heads-up displays, to control your comfort systems, information and entertainment systems."

Gary Bargamian, a Silver Spring resident, knows the real power of this technology, though. Bargamian suffers from primary lateral sclerosis, a rare neuromuscular disease, which has robbed him of the ability to speak or use his arms and legs. But with just his eyes, Gary can run a computer program which allows him to communicate with his medical aide, Khen Greathouse, and even work part time at the car dealership where he has worked for nearly 30 years.

"It has become incredibly hard for him to communicate, (but) with the Tobii technology, he has an avenue to get the complex words and thoughts out that, without it, would be extremely difficult," Greathouse said.