Our actual eyetracker is a bit backordered, so we’ve got a rental for the moment. It’s astoundingly unassuming looking, just (as they picture on their web site) basically a small black bar at the bottom of a 22” monitor, plus the laptop to run the programs. When I took it out of the box, it fires up the operating system and there are the icons just sitting on the desktop, with a little warning that we shouldn’t mess with any settings, install a firewall or anti-virus software for risk of messing up the primary function. They have branded the screen with a little decal from their company, but otherwise, it’s just a laptop with an attached monitor.


The actual getting started is a bit complicated.  I’m usually the one to pooh-pooh the need for “readme” documents, but I would have liked one here to tell me which program is which. That’s the thing – the software is powerful, but it has a bit of a steep learning curve. The “quick start” guide has several steps before you even think about calibrating a subject. We got stuck on the requirement to get Ethernet hooked up since we tried to set up in a tech closet and OSU otherwise has pretty widespread wireless coverage. Harrison had to run a 50’ cable from Mark’s office down the hallway to the closet.


Looks like the next step is some pretty intense work understanding how to set up an experiment in a different software program. This is where a “test” experiment just to start learning how to use the system would be good. That’s the sort of icon I need in the middle of the desktop. It reminds me of my first job as a research assistant, where I was registering brain images to a standard. The researchers had written a program to rotate the images to line up and then match certain features to the standard to stretch or compact the images as necessary, but there was no manual or quick start. My supervisor had to show me all the steps, what button did what, which order, etc. It was a fairly routine process, but it was all kept in someone’s head until I wrote it down. The pdfs here are a great start, but there still seems to be a step missing. Stay tuned!



Some of the cameras with which we’re working come in aesthetically pleasing, self-contained housings. We can fix that. The photo above shows the previously-internal microphone of an Axis M10 camera, which Kent has bent to his will using copper wire and electrical tape.

He also removed the housing from the camera itself, releasing its verdant inner being. Observe, as it perches atop the marine mammal case, naked and free as the day it was manufactured (at least before the housing went on, which presumably happened the same day):


So why, why, why did we do this? Well, we have to established not only how versatile our equipment is in its off-the-shelf condition, but how versatile it might be made through customization. In this case, we wanted to see if the internal microphone could be extended or swapped out if a situation so requires (if you’re wondering, the answer appears to be “yes”).

These devices will become part of our workplace. We have to become familiar with them, inside and out. That process may not always be pretty, but it sets the stage for better integration into our research environment.

In summary, that camera will get new clothes and it will love them.


Ladies and gentlemen, I present for your consideration an example of our signature rapid prototyping process. The handyman’s secret weapon gets a lot of use around here, and I even had a roll of Gorilla Tape on my wrist in case of emergencies.  Fortunately, it didn’t come to that.

The angles necessary for good face detection and recognition (up to about 15 degrees from straight-on) require careful consideration of camera placement.  The necessary process of checking angles and lighting isn’t always pretty, but I, for one, find the above image beautiful.

Friday we continued our perfect technology quest, this time focusing on audio. While we actually want the cameras to capture the video in an overlapping manner, so that we can track visitors from one spot to another and be able to see their faces no matter what angle they face, it turns out that the audio is a different matter. Due to the acoustics in the Center, if we’re not careful, a mic at the front desk will pick up voices 25 feet away at the wave tank, not only muddling the audio we want to hear from the front desk, but also perhaps turning on extra cameras and recording unrelated video.

In order to localize the audio to particular people and in order to understand speech clearly, we’ll use so-called near field recording (up-close to the speaker rather than capturing a whole room). We’ll also need to input multiple mics into certain cameras in order to have audio coverage with minimal wiring in the way of exhibits. Beyond that, though, was the question of what kind of pickup pattern we need – whether the mic records audio straight in front of it, in front and behind, or all around, for example.

With help from audio technicians from the main campus who were out to work the retirement of one NOAA research vessel and the welcoming of another, we discussed the ins-and-outs of particular shapes of recording areas. Probably our best bet in most cases will be a carotid, or heart-shaped, mic, which gets mostly what’s in front of the mic, but not in a straight line, and some of what’s behind the mic. The exact sizes of the patterns can often be tuned, which in our case again will be crucial as we begin to determine how visitors use particular exhibits, where they stand when they talk to one another, and especially how they might move up and down as they interact with people of different ages and heights.

As usual, one of our biggest challenges is trying to retrofit this recording equipment into an already built space, and a space built with weird angles, less-than-optimal acoustics, somewhat unpredictable speaker locations, and often loud but inconsistent ambient noise such as the 65-decibel running water in the touch pools. But hey, that’s why we’re trying it, to see if it’s even possible and beyond possible, helpful to our research.

I’m back to the sales calls, this time for Video Management Systems, the back-end software that will coordinate all our cameras. This field seems more competitive than that of eye tracking, or maybe there is just more demand, as VMS is what runs your basic surveillance system you find anywhere from the convenience store to the casino. So people are scrambling for our business.

However, whenever we try to describe what we’re doing and what our needs are, we run into some problems. You want to record audio? Well, that’s illegal in surveillance systems (it’s ok for research as long as you get consent), so it’s not something we deal a lot with. Don’t mount your camera near a heating or cooling vent or it will drown out the video. The microphones on the cameras are poor, and by the way, it doesn’t sync correctly with the video – “it’s like watching a bad Godzilla movie,” said the engineer we spoke with this morning. You want to add criteria to flag video and grab certain pieces? Well, you can’t access the video stream because if you do, then it’s not forensically admissable and can’t be used in court (Ok, we just need an exported copy, we’re not going to prosecute anyone even if they chew gum in the Visitor Center). You want to record high-resolution images? Well, you can either buy a huge amount of storage or a huge amount of processing capability. Minor obstacles, really, but a lot of decision points, even more than eye trackers. Again, though, it’s a learning experience in itself, so hopefully we’re generating some data that will save someone else some time in the future.

The pricing and purchasing is a bit strange, too. The companies seem to all have “sales” teams, but many can’t actually sell anything more than the software, some don’t even sell their software directly. Instead, we have to deal then with retailers and sometimes “integrators” that can sell us hardware, too, or at least specify requirements for us. Then there’s the matter of cameras – we haven’t decided on those, either, and it’s becoming clear that we’ll have several different types of cameras. Juggling all these decisions at once is quite a trick, literally.

At least it’s a moderately amusing process; many of the sales folks are here or were visiting in the Northwest recently, and we’ve commiserated over the last week about all the rain/snow/ice that ground the area to a halt from Seattle to Eugene.