A clear view of the operational environment: Eye-tracking as an effective training tool - VPS 19
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Presentation by Dr Dag Wagner at the 5th KSK Armaments Symposium

Out in the field fractions of a second are often all you’ve got. In situations like this, every move has to come automatically. With an innovative eye-tracking technology, instructors can now improve the perception of their field personnel in stressful situations and identify exactly where their attention is focused during every single second. Dr. Dag Wagner, Technical Director of Viewpointsystem, explained how “eye-hyper-tracking” works at the 5th KSK Armaments Symposium in Altensteig-Wart, Germany. His presentation provides an insight into how the technology can be used in training. 

Altensteig-Wart, 6 September 2017. The eye is an unerring indicator of the level of attention and emotional state of field personnel. Cicero was well aware of the informative value of eye movements when he described the eyes as the “interpreter of the mind”. An innovative technology to track eye movements now not only provides information about a soldier’s actual gaze behaviour. Furthermore, it also informs about his inner state variables such as stress, cognitive load and attention capacity. This enables an instructor, for example, to see the direction of a soldier’s gaze, focus and ability to concentrate under stress during training.

Optimising perception through gaze training 

If gaze behaviour is not trained, human vision is intuitive and instinctive. The optic nerve is directly connected to the brain and triggers reactions there. Like a high-speed information highway, the optic nerve sends signals from the retina to the brain in less than one tenth of a second. However, untrained visual perception is very much slower.

The aim of gaze training is to improve the soldier’s perception above all by shortening latency during a gaze shift or eyelid movement. Our complete field of view when the head is held still is around 180 times 130 degrees. However, we only have full clarity of vision with the ability to see complex shapes, sharp contours and colours within a very small field of view, the foveal overlap that covers only 2 degrees of visual angle. To capture a scene, we therefore fixate on certain areas and then rapidly move the eye between the individual fixation points. However, during these eye movements (saccades) no information is absorbed and processed, the eye is “blind” so to speak. In a stressful operational situation, untrained, unguided scanning movements with frequent eyelid movements and up to five saccades per second lead to high levels of visual latency. Thus the time in which no information is processed becomes longer, precisely when rapid action is called for.

If eye control is practised, gaze shifts can be reduced and the latency before, during and after a saccade shortened from 200 milliseconds in an untrained individual to 100 milliseconds. This improves situational awareness enabling faster action.

Recognise what field personnel see and perceive 

The basis for effective training is precise analysis. Vision analysis with high-tech eye-tracking glasses like the VPS 16 enables the instructor to capture the exact view that the soldier has in training situations or on deployment in live stream. The wearer can then be given precise instructions in real time.

Secondly, during the subsequent evaluation of the recorded images the soldier’s train of vision and his saccade pattern can be played back with absolute precision. The instructor can see where the trainee’s attention was directed, which areas he did not see clearly, what was completely outside his perception and when he had eyelid movements. With this information, movements and routines in operational situations can be trained. Viewing strategies can be measurably compared and optimised in terms of perception performance.

The included software contains standardised menus for evaluation so that the instructor can visualise and evaluate the results directly during the training session. Immediate feedback can be given to the trainee.

Recognising stress, shock and loss of control 

Perception can be trained on the basis of viewing strategies. But beware: Perception is also always influenced by inner state variables such as emotions, cognitive load, attention capacity or tiredness. The soldier’s perception capacity is determined not only by the viewing strategy, but also by any mental and emotional stress felt in the situation. Data on precisely these inner state variables can now be collected for the first time using eye-tracking, enabling totally personalised training. Scientists working in R&D are currently further developing and refining the measuring of inner state variables.

Outlook: Combining eye-tracking with geo-coordinates 

The potential uses of eye-tracking in training and exercise situations are far from exhausted. Together with ESRI, a manufacturer of software for geo-information systems, Viewpointsystem is currenty working on a combination of eye tracking and geo-coordination. In addition to the soldier’s field of vision, his exact position and line of vision will then be identified and visualised on the map. It will also be possible to show precisely what personnel sees in 3D. This combination of eye-tracking and geo-coordinates enables instructors to quickly recognise, for example, the level of expertise with which the trainee masters the vision challenges concealed in the panorama during training.

About Viewpointsystem 

Viewpointsystem combines the expertise of vision research with state-of-the-art technology development. The Vienna-based technology company has more than 20 years of experience in the field of eye tracking and has implemented more than 500 national and international projects in sectors ranging from food and beverages (Jordans Dorset Ryvita) to transport (Deutsche Bahn, Wiener Linien, ÖBB Infra, VIA Vienna International Airport). The company’s smart eyewear product, the VPS 16, received the coveted CES 2017 Innovation Award as one of the top products in the category Wearables. Viewpointsystem

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