Scientist Jeff Pelz thinks so. The director of the Visual Perception Laboratory at Rochester Institute of Technology studies the link between eye movements and cognition. His latest research, in collaboration with the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID), focuses on how deaf students process information in the classroom. Another project tracks how the human eye perceives high-speed motion on large-scale LCD monitors for Sharp Research Laboratory of America.
Until recently, visual perception research was rooted in laboratories where subjects looked at simple patterns on monitors in darkened rooms. Pelz argues that those experiments tell scientists little about how people use their eyes in daily life.
"The overarching question is how much of what we learn in the laboratory can we extend to the real world?" asks Pelz, an associate professor at RIT's Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science.
The wearable eye tracker-new technology developed in the Visual Perception Laboratory-is helping to answer those questions. The eye tracker has transformed the field of visual perception by enabling subjects to wear the technology outside of the laboratory and even outdoors.
"The system we've developed at RIT is unique in its ability to automatically monitor even complex tasks in a large range of environments," Pelz says. "We can study students in a classroom or people finding their way in the woods."
The wearable eye tracker extends the laboratory to the real world by recording what people look at and how their eyes move as they perform a specified task, such as attending to a lecture in a classroom, driving a car, walking or playing racquetball. In other words, the device tracks how eye movements support perception and what people pay attention to in order to gather the information they need to perform everyday activities.