Univ. of Washington spinout aims to detect eye and body movement using sensors embedded in paper

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Rendering of Somalitics’ prototype gesture mat. (Somalytics image)

A new company out of the University of Washington launched this week with technology to understand human gestures, body functions and eye movements.

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somalytics has developed ultrathin, flexible sensors that are Made from tiny carbon nanotubes embedded in paper. The sensors attach directly to the glasses to measure eye movement. The company has also built sensors into a mat that detect hand movements while hovering over it.

The sensors work from distances of up to 20 centimeters and are good at isolating movement from people rather than other objects, the CEO said. Barbara Barkley,


“What makes it unique in the world of sensing is that it can sense over great distances, and it is highly sensitive to humans,” she said.

The sensor, Barkley said, has the potential for many uses, such as health applications that need to measure heart rate and other body functions. And the technology’s ability to sense where the hands, fingers and eyes are could soup up virtual reality applications in the future, too.

Somalytics CEO Barbara Barkley. (Somalytics photo)
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UW Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering jae-hyun chungoo technology developed, a . displayed in series of publications, Chung’s team collaborated with UW assistant professor of environmental and forest science Anthony announced, which is developing the special paper used to make the instruments. Chung co-founded the company with two graduate students in his lab, Zhongyi Qian, and wiggi saki,

CoMotion at UW and a science investment firm, IP Group, Inc. announced the founding of Somalytics on Monday. CoMotion handles the university’s technology transfer process, helping UW researchers launch startups and secure patents for their discoveries.

Barclay said IP Group has provided an undisclosed amount of seed funding for the new venture, which will propel the four-person company through its next year of operations.

The company’s engineers are collaborating with UW researchers on UW’s product development clean energy test bed, which provides tools, equipment and manufacturing support.

The company aims to showcase its prototype, the 12 x 12-inch mat, at the Consumer Electronics Show this January. “It basically functions as a mouse, but it also has 3D capability, so you can hold your hand over it. You can draw on the computer with it, you can turn the volume up and down and things like that,” Barkley said.

Barkley was previously the president of eye-tracking healthcare company RightEye and the US general manager of eye-tracking manufacturer Toby Technology. Several companies are developing sensors for a variety of uses and billion-dollar markets, but Somalytics’ approach is unique, Barclay said.

Jay Hyun-chung, co-founder of Somalytics and UW Associate Professor. (Your photo / Karen Order)

The sensors are made by mixing electricity-conducting carbon nanotubes with cellulose, the building blocks of paper. Nanotubes are ten-thousandths the size of a human hair, and the resulting ultra-thin sensors provide robust signal detection but consume only small amounts of power.

Barkley said this enables devices such as the company’s early-stage eye-tracking devices. “Eye tracking has been around for more than 15 years. It has worked great and has enabled a lot of research, but it really doesn’t get you and me,” Barclay said. Take pictures of your device, which can add cost and lead to sluggish equipment.

Instead somalytics uses sensors attached to glasses to directly measure eye movements. “It has the potential to track where the eye is looking at little cost, much faster,” Barclay said. The company has built a prototype for one eye with three sensors and will then produce a set of glasses that work with two eyes.

The company’s engineers are also developing the final processes for manufacturing the paper used in the sensors and the process to mass-produce them.

Could better technology one day lead to a future where humans interact via sensors and virtual reality? It’s a future that was recently described by Meta (formerly Facebook) CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a video he calls the “Metaverse”—a term coined by writer Neil Stephenson, who had his own vision of the concept. Is.

Pointing to the sensor’s potential in virtual reality, Barker said, with Zuckerberg’s idea, Somalytics’ technology “fits ridiculously well in a way that’s actually kind of ridiculous.” She emphasizes that such sensors have great potential for positive applications. But doesn’t the potential elude him a bit?

Barkley replied, “I focus more on how we can help people.”

Another use the company is exploring is a face mask to detect eye movement during REM sleep, a sleep stage when people dream and their eyes move rapidly. Barkley also envisions a band-aid-like device to detect breathing.

The startup plans to scale up to eight employees within the next year.

UW has exited 258 companies since 1990, which have raised more than $7.9 billion in funding, with $4.7 billion in the past five years. Other recent launches backed by CoMotion include Thruwave, which is developing methods to image inside packages, and early-stage biotech ZWI Therapeutics.

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