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This Scientist Wants to Democratize Eye Tracking

March 20, 2018, 11:44 PM UTC

If eyes are the window into the soul, then eye tracking is the best view into human, says Alexandra Papoutsaki, an assistant professor in computer science at Pomona College.

Papoutsaki is part of a research team at Pomona that’s partnered with a group at Brown University to focus on “democratizing eye tracking.”

Papoutsaki, speaking at Fortune’s Brainstorm Health conference in Laguna Niguel, Calif. on Tuesday, explained how eye-tracking devices can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Her team has created a solution called WebGazer that “turns any laptop or device into an eye tracker.”

Individuals with chronic mental illness have different eye patterns, says Papoutsaki, so eye tracking can be used as a diagnostic technology and to study patients with certain psychopathology. Rather than go through the process of bringing subjects into a lab and having them use expensive equipment, WebGazer allows subjects to simply click a link and turn their laptop into an eye-tracking device.

For a study about clinical depression, for example, a researcher could show images that read as happy, sad, angry, or neutral. WebGazer would indicate to the researcher which image the subject was first drawn to and eventually fixated on. People who are clinically depressed end up looking at sad faces, Papoutsaki says.

Papoutsaki says the tool could also be used to help train doctors. She explained that expert doctors are obviously better and faster at making a diagnosis based on medical images than novice doctors. Looking at their eye tracking patterns combined with brain scans could create a database for medical students, she says.