Some Netflix employees built a cool eye-controlled navigation hack for the iOS app

Netflix hackathon eye-controlled navigation

A group of Netflix employees recently decided to work on an out-of-the-box project that sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie. It’s a way for you to put down your remote and use expressions like eye movements and even sticking out your tongue to navigate the streaming giant’s OS, so that you can continue your binges of Bojack Horseman and Bodyguard without hardly moving a muscle.

It was part of the company’s ninth hackathon, a company-wide event held last month during which employees put their heads together and tried to work up all manner of fun, oddball and quirky ideas and projects. And this year’s certainly continued in the grandly whimsical tradition of the company’s past hackathons that have produced everything from a way to browse titles using brainwaves to the use of image recognition to help parents zero-in on problematic content to shield from kids.

The face-navigation project is one of several interesting ideas to come out of this year’s version of the hackathon. A trio of Netflix employees — Ben Hands, John Fox, Steve Henderson — posted a video you can see included at the top of this post that shows how it works. From their description of the idea, which relies on Apple’s ARKit: “We care a lot about Accessibility, so we were eager to try a hack that would allow people to navigate the iOS app just by moving their eyes,” they wrote in the YouTube video’s description.

“The same technology that enables Face ID is great for accurately tracking eye position and facial expression. We used eye tracking to move the pointer around the screen, and measured the time spent on the same area to trigger the equivalent of a tap. We then used a facial gesture (tongue sticking out) to dismiss a screen. We’re hopeful that this kind of technology will become a part of mainstream Accessibility APIs in the future.”

More than 100 employees participated in this year’s hackathon at Netflix’s Los Gatos, California headquarters for two days in mid-October. Among the other ideas to come out of it was “Jump to Shark,” an add-on for the Netflix app that would let viewers of Syfy’s gloriously ridiculous Sharknado movies, which Netflix also streams, skip ahead to the best parts.

At least one non-Netflix idea also came out of the hackathon. A Netflix engineer created an app for Slack called Lunchbot, and the way it works is every morning it invites a random group of employees to eat lunch together after first automatically checking to make sure their calendars show free time at the same time.

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