Eye Tracking—The Missing Link Between Man and Machine

The beauty of eye tracking allows us to see where an individual is looking, giving us unparalleled insight into their cognitive processes.

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I was fortunate enough to be part of the Sweden Co-Lab organized by Business Sweden at last week’s Hannover Messe. The event attracts almost a quarter of a million visitors from the manufacturing sector, who gather to discuss pioneering technologies powering the shift towards Industry 4.0 and beyond. Automation, machine learning, the IoT, artificial intelligence and robotics are clearly in focus, and while smart factories are propelling efficiency, many businesses are struggling to keep up with the demands this technology creates on the workforce. I’m talking about training and tacit knowledge transfer. Manufacturing is already under pressure from an increasing skills gap, caused by the Baby Boomer retirement wave and rapidly developing technological advancements which are outpacing the training of workers.

It’s apparent that the manufacturing industry is undergoing disruptive change on a technological level, but something stuck me at Hannover; it wasn’t the focus on manufacturing tech, it was the lack of focus on the people operating it. There is a pressing need to find ways to manage the inherent problems that occur as a result of such drastic changes to work processes within very established industries.

Technology that delivers efficiency and increased productivity ironically becomes counterproductive if the people operating it aren’t equipped to use it. Training takes time and resources and with the skilled labor pool running dry, we need to determine how this can be mitigated.

Many people have still not heard of eye tracking, and those who have often see it as a novel technology or something relegated to the realms of academic research. That is no longer the case. Eye tracking is here and now! It’s more accessible than ever and can be applied with virtually no disruption to normal working processes.

The beauty of eye tracking allows us to see where an individual is looking, giving us unparalleled insight into their cognitive processes. In the context of a manufacturing business, you can use this information to study your most experienced workers and get a visual representation of where they direct their attention while carrying out a task. This can be used to show new hires best practices or highlight methods of working which will increase productivity or safety. Eye tracking taps into the subconscious or instinctive behaviors of workers, meaning you get access to valuable knowledge which even the experts themselves may not be able to articulate.

Denso, a global automotive component manufacturer, cut training time in half for new recruits by studying their best workers and using this knowledge in training. For companies facing the implementation of new technology, there is great potential for eye tracking to assist training.

Whether you want to study the methods of your quality assurance team, teach maintenance operators how to inspect new machinery or reveal the causes of recurrent mistakes on a production line, eye tracking can give you those actionable insights. It’s so broadly applicable, that even the Japanese strawberry industry has used it, as I discussed on the Swedish Startup panel at Hannover.

Tom Englund is president of Tobii Pro.

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