I feel like our search is like a random visual search that keeps getting narrowed down. If it were an eye-tracking study’s heat map, we’d be getting fewer and fewer focus points and longer and longer dwell times …
Visiting the University of Oregon to see Anthony Hornof’s lab with tabletop systems in place was enlightening. It was great to see and try out a couple of systems in person and talk with someone who used both about pros and cons of each system, from the optics to the software and even about technical support and the inevitable what to do if something goes wrong. We noted that the support telephone numbers were mounted on the wall next to a telephone.
I’ve also spent some time seeing a couple of software systems in online demos, one from a company that makes the hardware, too, and one from a company that just re-sells the hardware with their own software. I can’t really get a straight answer about the advantages of one software package over another for the same hardware, so that’s another puzzle to figure out, another compromise to make.
I think we’re zeroing in on what we want at this point, and it looks like, thanks to some matching funds from the university if we share our toys, we’ll be able to purchase both types of systems. We’ll get a fully mobile, glasses-mounted system as well as a more powerful but motion-limited stationary system. However, the motion-limited system will actually be less restricted than some systems that are tethered to a computer monitor. We’ve found a system that will detach from the monitor and allow the user to stand at a relatively fixed distance but look at an image virtually as far away as we like. That system records scene video much like the glasses-mounted systems do, but has better processing capability, basically analysis speed, for the times when we are interested in how people look at things like images or kiosk text or even movies. The bottom line is, though, there are still some advantages of other systems or even third-party software, so we can’t really get our absolutely ideal system in one package (or even from one company with two systems).
Another thing we’re having to think about is the massive amounts of video storage space we’re going to need. The glasses-mounted system can record to a laptop subnotebook at this point, but in the future, a smaller recording device with an SD card. The SD card will pretty much max out at about 40 minutes of recording time, though. So we’ll need some of those, as well as external hard drives and lots of secure backup space for our data. Data sharing will prove an interesting logistical problem as well; previous projects we’ve tried to share video data for have not led us yet to an optimal solution when collaborating researchers are in Corvallis, Newport, and Pennsylvania. Maybe one of the current limitations of the forerunner glasses-based system will prove “helpful” in this regard. The software can currently only be analyzed on the notebook that comes with the system, not on any-old PC, so it will reside most of the time at Newport and those of us who live elsewhere will just have to deal, or take the laptop with us. Hm, guess we ought to get to work setting out a plan for sharing the equipment that outlines not only physical equipment loan procedures but also data storage and analysis plans for when we might have to share these toys.