Eye tracking technology and pizza?! It’s a creative innovation that responds to an old problem.  Some feel more indecisive than others, but we’ve all puzzled over “What to eat?” Now, Pizza Hut is utilizing eye tracking technology in some of its U.K. restaurants to help connect with patron’s subconscious minds to better cater to their appetites.  Touchscreen tablet technology – without the eye tracking feature – is already in place in a number of restaurants and stores to allow customers to place orders without the mediation of a human being, but Pizza Hut is taking it a step further, and even if seen only as a marketing strategy, it’s very intriguing.

When one enters one of these pioneering restaurants, he or she sits down, glances through the menu, and before he or she has uttered a single word or made a conscious decision, the menu has figured out which toppings are most desirable and is waiting to place the order. The eye tracker system built into the tablet computer measures the customer’s eye movements in relation to the images of the toppings, and decides which of the 4,896 possible combinations are wanted by measuring the amount of time one’s eye gaze lingers over individual toppings.  The tablet-oracle lets the diner know its prediction – and waits for a sign of approval – before forwarding the order to the kitchen.

Eye tracking technology was first used by Louis Emile Javal to investigate reading in the late 19th century, and today, cognitive psychologists depend on eye tracking to study processes like attention, perception, memory, and decision-making.  Modern eye tracking uses high-speed cameras and graphic processors that measure infrared light reflected from the corneas of the eyes.  The processor uses the reflected light to seek out landmarks like the center of the pupil and the bright patch that gives us the familiar twinkle in our eye.  As a person’s gaze shifts, the relationship between these landmarks change, and these changes can be used to tell where a person is looking.  The impact of such technology is felt from research in dyslexia to regulations concerning distracted driving while texting.  Neuroscience further refines the data by combining eyetracking with brain imaging to study the neural systems that compose human thought, and although eye tracking was initially a luxury for the well-funded science lab, it has since become widely available for a couple of hundred dollars.

To return to the Pizza Hut experiment, can eye tracking really be leveraged to reveal a more accurate pizza preference?  The answer is double sided.  The fact that looking time is an indicator of preference has been frequently tested and proved; however looking time can reflect many aspects of decision-making and thinking.  Scientific American eloquently summed it up as the “relationship is probabilistic rather than certain.”  In short, this means our gaze may linger not only due to our passion for tomatoes, but also due to our memory of being allergic to peppers.

Though we can’t quite celebrate a resolution to our dietary indecision, we can hope that the eyetracker may come in handy more reliably as a computer interface for people who cannot physically use a keyboard and mouse.

 

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