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John Elvesjö and Mårten Skogö (Sweden)

Finalists for the European Inventor Award 2015

John Elvesjö and Mårten Skogö


Category: Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs)

Sector: Digital communication

Company: Tobii AB

Patent numbers: EP1562469, EP2237237

Invention: Eye-tracking device

The eyes are often called gateways to the soul. They have also inspired science to create devices that track and interpret their movements. A significant foray into our understanding of the mysteries of visual observation was made by a team led by Swedish engineer and physicist John Elvesjö. Elvesjö realised that a sensor designed to track the movements of pulp particles could also be employed on the human eye, paving the way for a host of applications.

Eye tracking devide During his studies in the early 2000s, Elvesjö hadn’t ever considered the potential of tracking eye movements – until he noticed that one of the particle sensors with which he was working followed the movements of his eyes. Elvesjö was struck immediately by the commercial and humanitarian potential of an eye-tracking sensor and set on developing the technology.

Since then, the eye-tracking technology developed by Elvesjö and his team at Tobii, the company he founded to market his innovation, has revolutionised market research, touched the lives of people with a variety of conditions, and helped bring eye tracking to everyday experiences such as driving, computing and game play.

Societal benefit

Elvesjö’s technology has been used to enhance augmented communication devices, like those famously employed by astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, to respond to retinal movements. It allows people with conditions such as cerebral palsy or severe paralysis to interact with speech-generating programmes to communicate.

The innovation serves people with diverse health conditions or spinal injuries, as well as those recovering from debilitating strokes. Eye-tracking technology allows people to engage more closely with their loved ones, gain independence, pursue personal and professional goals, and enjoy more fulfilling lives.

Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people could benefit from the technology. According to conservative estimates, around 2.5 million people throughout the world are living with a traumatic spinal cord injury that has impaired their mobility and an additional 130,000 suffer such injuries each year. These numbers do not include those who have lost mobility due to diseases such as multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Economic benefit

In order to make the most of his invention, Elvesjö created Tobii in 2001, during a conversation in his mother's basement with Henrik Eskilsson and Mårten Skogö. All three founders remain with the company as Chief Technical Officer, Chief Executive Officer, and Chief Science Officer, respectively.

Based in Stockholm, the company now has 570 employees and a global presence, with offices in Germany, Norway, China, Japan and the United States.

Recent venture capital investments and acquisitions of complementary companies show promise for its growth, placing Tobii in a promising position to succeed in the diverse and rapidly growing market for touchless human-machine interaction devices. This market is estimated to reach € 34.4 billion by 2020, more than tripling its current value.

  • John Elvesjö

    John Elvesjö and Mårten Skogö

  • John Elvesjö

    John Elvesjö and Mårten Skogö

  • John Elvesjö

    Mårten Skogö and John Elvesjö

  • John Elvesjö

    John Elvesjö

  • Computer screen
  • Eye tracking device

    Eye tracking device

How it works:

The retina-tracking technology employs a variety of near-infrared light microprojectors, optical scanners placed on a screen display. Sensors register and track the reflections of the infrared light from the user’s eyes to interpret his or her gaze, where it lands, and how it moves.

Proprietary software incorporating special algorithms then interprets eye movements in real time. In one of the technology’s many applications, the gaze functions as a command to control a computer system such as communication software or voice synthesizers.

The inventor:

For the human and commercial potential the innovation taps, Tobii has already received some 45 awards, tens of millions of euros in venture capital investments, and has an estimated IPO valuation of € 248 million, according to Swedish business daily Dagens Industri.

Elvesjö, who dropped out of an engineering physics program at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm to pursue the eye-tracking system, now holds 15 patents, 13 related to Tobii’s hardware and software innovations. He has received several innovation and entrepreneurial accolades.

Did you know?

The applications of retina-tracking technology extend beyond computer games and communication devices. Wearable retina-tracking eyeglasses, allow for real-time analysis while a person is shopping either online or in a store. This helps companies better understand how a consumer's eyes move from one product display to another and allows researchers to identify a display’s ideal characteristics for capturing the attention of shoppers in different demographic target groups.