Eye tracking technology wins Polhem Prize
Their eye tracking technology is already used by thousands of people with disabilities, enabling them to control their computers with their eyes. And now John Elvesjö and Mårten Skogö are being awarded the prestigious Polhem Prize by the Swedish Association of Graduate Engineers for their ingenious innovation Tobii Eyetracker, which in the future may well be found in all computers.
That our eyes can see is nothing new. But that a sensor can see how our eyes are moving was a discovery that laid the foundation for a radical innovation with many application areas. For their discovery and ingenious eye tracking device the Tobii Eyetracker, which enables eye movements to control a computer, John Elvesjö and Mårten Skogö are awarded this year’s Polhem Prize – Sweden’s oldest and most prestigious technology prize. The prize, a gold medal and 250,000 Swedish kronor, will be awarded at the Polhem Gala on 17 November in Winterviken.
The Tobii story begins in 1999, when John Elvesjö was working on a project for the forest industry that involved using optical sensors, a camera of sorts.
“I toyed around with them on the weekends and discovered that they could be used to track a number of different objects. Suddenly, I realised that they could be used to determine what someone is looking at. It was a eureka moment,” says John.
Tobii was founded two years later and together with Mårten Skogö, a fellow student from KTH, the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, developed the first eye sensor, partly in the basement of John’s mother’s home. Today the company has 600 employees in a dozen or so countries.
Tobii Eyetracker enables people with severe disabilities to use a computer just like anyone else. The company’s eye-controlled communication devices are now used by more than 10,000 people with communication disabilities, primarily in the Nordic countries and the USA.
The innovation can also be used in other areas, such as to better understand human behaviour or to develop new human-machine interfaces for use in, for example, video games and motor vehicles. Tobii’s client base now includes about 1,500 research institutes and 2,000 companies.
The inventors themselves are convinced that eye sensors will be found in all computers in the future.
John Elvesjö was born in 1977 and read Engineering Physics at KTH. Today he is Deputy CEO and Chief Technical Officer at Tobii. He lives in California and can be reached at +1 415 885 9406.
Mårten Skogö was also born in 1977 and read Engineering Physics at KTH. Today he is Chief Science Officer at Tobii. He can be reached at +46 739 24 15 10.