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Forbes Magazine and Business Insider have both highlighted Umoove as one of the hottest Israeli startup companies to keep an eye on in the coming year. Umoove is the first ever software for face and eye tracking that works with any mobile device, without the need for extra hardware in addition to your phone. Their unique technology, for which they’ve already filed 20 patents, has attracted the attention of some of the biggest companies in the world, including Apple and Google. Currently, Umoove has produced gaming and focusing software but it has future aspirations to expand to many other markets including advertising, sports, and wearable virtual reality.
Its biggest impact might be in health care, as it’ll allow doctors and other medical professionals to examine patients through their own eyes. This could apply to conditions such as ADHD, Parkinson’s, and stroke patients, and also to people who have autism or have suffered a concussion. Any regular mobile device, with just some simple software downloads, could become an innovative medical diagnosing device that would drastically change the Healthcare market.
Umoove was founded in 2010 by Yitzi Kempinski (current CEO and CTO), Tuvia Elbaum (current CMO), Moti Krispil, and Nir Blushtein (Current COO). The idea was first envisioned as an effort to help disabled people as Kempinski was searching for an affordable solution to let paralyzed people browse the internet or read content by using only their facial muscles. But he realized the algorithms he had created could have much wider and greater applications. The original founders invested 800,000 dollars from their personal funds before raising close to 3.25 million dollars in funding. Face and eye tracking has existed for some time, but has consisted solely of expensive hardware devices and has generally been inaccessible to the general public. Umoove’s first revolutionary step was that it utilizes the simple front facing camera on any mobile device and removes the expensive and inconvenient hardware. What makes Umoove’s software even better is that its face and eye tracking abilities have been programmed to overcome challenges such as lighting and shakiness. It is also equipped with an active stabilization technique in order that natural body movements that lead to false-positive motion detection will be filtered out. The software runs at as low as 5% of the Central Processing Unit, which won’t drain a phone’s battery life, and on top of this technology, Umoove has added an interpretation layer which uses the face and eye movements and converts it into valuable data and a language of interaction.
The potential for Umoove to not only serve as another cool feature on one’s smartphone, but to also potentially help people, is incredible.
Although the face and eye movements are very different, when tracked together they compliment one another. The face shows intuitive interactions using controlled and voluntary movements. Eyes, on the other hand, move involuntarily and aren’t so relevant for regular interactions. That being said, eyes are very valuable for in depth analysis of movements and patterns as a way of diagnosing brain disorders in addition to tracing and improving brain activity. Kempinski insists using eye movements alone, such as Samsung’s eye-tracking scroll tech utilizes, is extremely insufficient. He noted that people make many involuntary eye movements, which can be very confusing for this software, and additionally there is no clear way to differentiate between a controlling eye gesture and a user looking over content that they are reading or looking at. Umoove’s technology is presented as two different software development kits; FaceSDK and EyeMovementSDK, which are both available on iOS and Android. This combination of tracking eye and face movements from just your mobile camera can have huge impacts in so many different current and future markets.
In January 2014, Umoove released its first game for phones and tablets. The Umoove Experience game tracks your head movements as you fly and gather purple potions to gain energy. The game also integrates touch for an all-inclusive gaming experience. Touch is used to control the user’s speed of flight. It’s a very basic game with only one level, albeit one whose purpose isn’t to try and rise up the App Store charts. Instead Umoove wants to show mobile app developers the possibilities of this technology, in the hope of gaining attention and demand. Its business model is looking down the line, hoping that selling this new concept of adding a new interface layer on top of the already existent touch technology to many companies and users. Kempinski said the company already has lined up seven or eight outside game developers who are interested in implementing this technology. The future gaming possibilities are quite intriguing as one can only imagine the convenience and handiness of a game that automatically pauses when you look away from the screen at someone yelling your name, and then continues when you turn face back to the screen. The gaming possibilities are fun and exciting but the application to other markets could have an even greater impact on the world.
One of the most difficult challenges for people nowadays is undoubtedly staying focused. Between the demands of social media and the constant advertisements that surround us, it is nearly impossible to maintain attention and focus. In January 2015, Umoove released their second app, called uHealth, to help people of all ages overcome distractions. The app is designed with two games, one to improve attention and another to improve focus. Using various eye tracking games, you gradually learn how to ignore distractions, focus, and be more attentive. As your concentration improves and you learn to ignore more distractions, you earn more points and advance to more challenging levels. This therapy, while delivered through a downloadable game, actually employs the same principles that parents used to use by holding two pencils and making their children follow the pencils with their eyes.
This could totally revolutionize the current problems of concentration and attention difficulties by removing expensive technology or therapists. “The app is meant to be used by anyone who struggles with focus and attention difficulties – about half the people in the world,” said Kempinski. He continued “But using eye tracking to diagnose even serious diseases and conditions, like stroke and concussions, is nothing new. Doctors have been doing it for years – everyone, for example, has had a doctor put a pencil in front of his face and been asked to follow its movement. But this is the first interactive tool that utilizes eye-tracking technology for therapy, and eventually it will be used for diagnosis as well.” At this point, the uHealth app isn’t meant for diagnosis as that would require Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval and instead is only meant as a brain exercise that is applied to supplement other forms of medical treatment. The uHealth is the first medical application of this technology, but even more applications are in store.
The biggest problem that Umoove faces is the issue of privacy. If eye and face tracking can be on every mobile device, what’s to stop it from being used without a person’s consent? There are three ways the company plans on addressing this concern. First, the capturing of a person’s face or eye movements will not leave the phone and when the data will be sent later it will be anonymized. Second, advertisement and game participation will only have a few pre-warned users being tracked. Finally, they plan on making it possible to present a permission request to users for non-advertisement apps, making the process even more optional.
The applications for Umoove are quite exciting and possibly world changing. One amazing example is how Umoove could help diagnose autism. It has been proven that autistic children avoid looking at faces in an image or video. By playing a video on a screen, Umoove could not only sense whether the child is looking at the phone or not, but also whether they’re focusing in on the face or on other parts of the screen. Also, an advertising company could utilize the Umoove software to establish how long a user's eyes lingered on a particular advertisement and see its success at appealing to the customer. “In the future, there’s going to be a platform where you can upload a video and see, for every second, how engaged people are. Making any visual content effective is extremely valuable,” Kempinski said. Lastly, Umoove plans to use their software for diagnosing neurological disorders but this will depend on clinical tests for accuracy and FDA approval. There is a direct relationship between eye movements and brain activity which has been backed by many scientific studies conducted over the past decades. This could apply to concussions, strokes, Parkinson’s disease and many other brain diseases. Imagine a football player running over to the sideline and getting checked by a mobile phone for a concussion. Umoove is not looking to make a wholesale replacement of touch-based interfaces but instead want to their technology and product to act as an accompanying feature. “The application possibilities are endless,” says Moti Krispil. “Our strategy is driven by the vision to be the de facto standard for natural user interface on mobile devices. We’re not just delivering technology, but actually suggesting a new language.” Overall, the potential for Umoove to not only serve as another cool feature on one’s smartphone, but to also potentially help people, is incredible.