Apple eye-tracking patent drawing

What you need to know

  • Tracking a single user's eyes is already possible.
  • Tracking multiple users is more difficult.
  • Apple now has a patent for tech that can do it with a single camera.

Being able to track a user's eyes is something computers have been able to do for years, but when they try to track multiple pairs of eyes things start to fall down. Now Apple has been granted its very own patent for a technology that would allow a single camera to keep tabs on multiple people at once.

The patent, dubbed "Method for operating an eye tracking device for multi-user eye tracking and eye tracking device", was granted by the US Patent and Trademark Office recently. It carries patent number 10,416,764, but that isn't the interesting part.

Where things start to become interesting is the way Apple plans on recording each frame a camera sees and then examining whether new users are present. The technology will also identify the person at the same time. That's over-simplifying things considerably, but the way it works isn't what really matters. It's what it could mean for users.

Apple's patent mentions games in particular, with users being able to trigger on-screen actions using just their eyes.

With regard to games, in the past many games used to be played with multiple people sitting at the keyboard triggering actions in the game using different keys. Instead of two people using the same keyboard, it will be possible to control their characters using gaze instead.

The potential applications for the technology go way beyond games. Apple suggests it could be used when making video calls or even during surgery.

With regard to the use in surgery rooms, in a surgery setting multiple doctors and assistants might require different information from a screen. Using multi-gaze tracking any individual can set what is on a screen or part of a screen.

Of course, now would also be a very good time to remind everyone that not every patent turns into a shipping product or feature. Apple applies for – and is granted – tons of patents every month. Whether this is one that becomes something we ever get the chance to play with, we just don't yet know.