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Tracking the gaze and facial expression.

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IM2 researchers have recently developed a software that automatically captures and analyses eye movements. This opens up new avenues for market research. The work was presented in Hannover, April 4-8 2011, at the world’s largest industrial trade fair.

It takes a few seconds to interpret what a person’s facial expression or eyes say about their feelings. However, for participants in market surveys entering responses on a computer, this has only been possible in the market research lab so far.

The scientists have developed a software to detect which part of the screen is currently being looked at. This is based on the person’s eye movements, which are recorded by simple webcam. “Technically, this was a major challenge,” says Matteo Scorci, a researcher at the EPFL, “because eye movements are minute, but they occur within seconds.”

At the moment, the researchers are striving to combine their new software with another application that can gauge the person’s feelings based on the facial expressions recorded by a webcam. “If we succeed in performing automated evaluations on both sets of information, namely facial expression and eye movements,” Sorci explains, “we would be able to deduce what a person was seeing and feeling at the time.” Up until now, psychologists have observed test subjects in the market research lab and interpreted their feelings. Despite professional working methods, an element of subjectivity can never be ruled out here. If the gaze and facial expression are interpreted by a computer, the market researchers would gain a more objective understanding of the interviewee’s emotional response. It would also make it possible to conduct interviews with focus groups on the Internet.

The EPFL team has developed the new software in collaboration with nViso, a start-up company that emerged from the NCCR IM2. The research project is one of 28 projects that got underway in autumn 2009 in the context of strategic measures to stabilise the Swiss economy.

The researchers are presenting the new software at the world's largest trade fair in Hannover, which takes place from 4 to 8 April 2011.

Last modified 2011-08-19 16:42

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