Brown researchers develop eye-tracking software that uses readers’ webcams

The software requests permission to access the users’ webcams and begins tracking their eye movements.
The software requests permission to access the users’ webcams and begins tracking their eye movements. | File photo

Computer scientists at Brown University have developed software that allows website owners and developers to track users' eye movements on their own computers using in-built webcams, making this analytic method significantly more accessible.

“We see this as a democratization of eye-tracking,” Brown University graduate student Alexandra Papoutsaki, who led the software’s development, said. “Anyone can add WebGazer to their site and get a much richer set of analytics compared to just tracking clicks or cursor movements.”

While web developers have long used eye tracking as a way to determine where site users are looking and what is holding their attention, it has previously been a costly data source, requiring the use of devices built specifically for that purpose. This software will allow more creators and developers to garner that information by simply adding some code to their sites. The software then requests permission to access the users’ webcams and begins tracking their eye movements. It does not send any video from the users’ webcams.

“We’re using the webcams that are already integrated in users’ computers, which eliminates the cost factor,” Papoutsaki said. “And it’s more naturalistic in the sense that we observe people in the real environment instead of in a lab setting…Our purpose here was to give the tool both to the scientific community and to developers and owners of websites and see how they choose to adopt it.”

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