Xuuk may be luuking at uu

May 10, 2007 by Dave Haynes

A teeny company operating out of the Human Media Lab up the road at Queen’s University, in Kingston, Ontario, has unveiled a little people-counter gadget it hopes will do for out of home advertising what mouse clicksdo for online.

The $999 device, concocted by the lab and commercialized by a resulting start-up company called Xuuk, uses an infrared LED light, software and a little camera to figure out whether someone is looking at the camera by recognizing the “red eye” spot. Red eye only happens when someone is looking directly at the camera.

A piece in EE Times provides more detail:

The Eyebox consists of a palm-sized video camera surrounded by infrared light-emitting diodes and a Universal Serial Bus interface. Software running on an attached computer can determine whether someone is looking at the camera by recognizing the “red eye” spot, which only appears when a viewer is looking directly at the camera.

It is possible to track eye movements today, but the laboratory setups to do so cost $25,000 and up. In addition, the viewer must be no more than 2 feet away and must remain stationary, and the setup must be calibrated for each individual. Xuuk claims to have extended the range of the Eyebox to 32 feet and to have eliminated the need for personal calibration. And people walking by don’t have to stop in order to be counted.

Because the light is infrared, the user is unaware of being observed. Xuuk emphasizes that no data on the identity of the user is collected. Instead, the device simply counts how many people per day have looked at an ad or product. By using a separate Eyebox for each billboard or product on a shelf, advertisers can be charged on a “per look” basis.

There are other companies, like VideoMining, doing very sophisticated biometrics work in this space to identify demographic characteristics and track consumers through an environment. The Xuuk thing is somewhat lower-tech, but could still get stinkin’ expensive if run across a large network.

On the other hand, if research could be proven to be valid at sample sites and extrapolated across a whole network, it wouldn’t be all that costly.

UPDATE: I tweaked this post as it has grown more apparent that there really isn’t any formal link with Google, depsite many stories declaring one … somehow. There has been no formal comment from Google as to the relationship, and the only clarity I could yet find is that Xuuk’s founder was down at Google HQ meeting with their folks. EE Times and others seem to be either making an assumption about the relationship, or know something but couldn’t get official confirmation.

If these things start getting used — and Xuuk reports they are deployed in the UK — it will be an interesting battle between media planners who want this sort of absolute measurement and network operators who are selling on the basis of the opportunity to view screens (knowing a whole bunch of that number aren’t really looking).

Here is the story from Kingston’s local paper, the Whig-Standard.

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