Eye Catching: Supporting tele-communicational eye-gaze in Collaborative Virtual Environments

Lead Research Organisation: University of Salford
Department Name: Sch of Computing, Science & Engineering


Driven by the potentials and demands of an increasing global market and fed by advances in information and communication technology, one of the trends in the modern workplace is for more distributed team working. Distributed working has long been a major topic in computer science, but despite excellent work and the development of highly sophisticated computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW) systems, in many situations there is no substitute for a face-to-face meeting. The consequent demands for travel to meetings have immediate short term quality of life and productivity impacts on individuals. There may also be more far-reaching and profound implications of our current reliance on long distance travel. Thus it is still very relevant to try to determine why some CSCW fails and to research possible technologies for expanding the situations for which face to face meetings can be avoided. There are numerous common collaborative scenarios that require a more natural way of interacting across a distance. Specifically we have identified conscious and subconscious communication of attention and emotion as common critical elements that make many such scenarios hard to support without eye-gaze. Eye-gaze is a key interactional resource in collaboration but it is not well supported in today's communication technology. Indeed many have claimed that lack of ability to faithfully represent eye-gaze is the key failing of current CSCW systems. Within today's video based systems eye-gaze can be maintained in some limited way if the user is willing to look directly at a camera, but this is unnecessarily constraining in a social situation, especially during object or environment focussed collaboration.We propose to evaluate the role of eye-gaze in tele-communication so as to better design future communication technologies. To do this we will build the world's first tele-collaboration system that supports two and three way communicational eye-gaze without restricting the gaze direction of participants. We will integrate eye-tracking technologies into Immersive Projection Technology (IPT) displays, and develop the software necessary to build a consistent collaborative virtual environment where each participant can see the other and accurately track their eye-gaze. To prove the utility of this system we will compare it to AccessGrid technology which provides state-of-the-art video conferencing on large wall displays. Although unable to support communicational eye-gaze between moving participants, AccessGrid does offer advantages in terms of placement within working environments and realism of representation. Comparison between the two approaches will provide valuable insight into future development of each. Through a series of experiments we will establish what conditions are necessary and sufficient to support communicational eye-gaze in a tele-communication system; validate the support of eye-gaze in tele-communication by measuring its impact on collaboration; measure the impact of technology approaches and variables; establish when eye-gaze is important; and establish situations where eye-gaze is critical for successful collaboration at a distance.


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Description Eye-catching produced the first telepresence system to support communicational eye gaze between moving people. In order to support gaze between moving people through a communication medium, both their viewpoint into the apparently shared space, and their embodiment seen from within it, must moved with them. This approach had already been demonstrated in Immersive collaborative virtual environments (ICVE), by avatar's following gross movements of people separately immersed in the same simulation. Eye-catching extended the ICVE approach by tracking eye movement and representing it in the remote avatars. This was done by placing eye trackers in stereo glasses, and improving both the quality of event passing and the realism of reproduction of eye movement. The findings were that eye gaze could be supported between people moving in different places, provided people did not walk to closely are far from the screens. An implication is that much legacy immersive projection technology is likely to have insufficient space or resolution to support natural social interaction between moving people. Another outcome was the realisation that faithful communication of appearance and attention was important. We argued that while video conferencing supports the former, and ICVE's the latter, there is a need to bring video based reconstruction to the point where it could support both.
Exploitation Route Eye-gaze is the most studied and probably most important non-verbal cue yet before this project could only be communicated through a medium between stationary people. Many if not most interactions in the real world are between moving people. Thus this brings us significantly closer to generally supporting natural human communication without the need for physical togetherness. This is an important step toward long term major environmental, economic, and social benefits. Exploitation is now being explored with BBC, Cisco and Microsoft
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)

URL http://www.cve.salford.ac.uk/page/eye_catching
Description The findings of the research are now being applied within an EU project to improve colloration in European space missions and science. The EU FP7 CROSS DRIVE aims to provide Europe's critical mass of space data, a diversity of Mars data experts to analyse these data, and tools for them to use, by linking all parties together in distributed virtual workspaces for collaborative scientific discovery, mission planning and operations. CROSS DRIVE will lay the foundations for collaborative European workspaces for space science. Roberts et al are developing the collabortive workspaces and underlying software infrastructure to synchornise remote simulations such as interfaces for VR environment and equipments, and web portal.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine
Impact Types Societal,Economic

Description iCASE studentship
Amount £100,000 (GBP)
Funding ID EPSRC 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2009 
End 06/2012
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