3D Gaze Estimation from Remote RGB-D Sensors

The development of systems able to retrieve and characterise the state of humans is important for many applications and fields of study. In particular, as a display of attention and interest, gaze is a fundamental cue in understanding people activities, behaviors, intentions, state of mind and personality. Moreover, gaze plays a major role in the communication process, like for showing attention to the speaker, indicating who is addressed or averting gaze to keep the floor. Therefore, many applications within the fields of human-human, human-robot and human-computer interaction could benefit from gaze sensing. However, despite significant advances during more than three decades of research, current gaze estimation technologies can not address the conditions often required within these fields, such as remote sensing, unconstrained user movements and minimum user calibration. Furthermore, to reduce cost, it is preferable to rely on consumer sensors, but this usually leads to low resolution and low contrast images that current techniques can hardly cope with. In this thesis we investigate the problem of automatic gaze estimation under head pose variations, low resolution sensing and different levels of user calibration, including the uncalibrated case. We propose to build a non-intrusive gaze estimation system based on remote consumer RGB-D sensors. In this context, we propose algorithmic solutions which overcome many of the limitations of previous systems. We thus address the main aspects of this problem: 3D head pose tracking, 3D gaze estimation, and gaze based application modeling. First, we develop an accurate model-based 3D head pose tracking system which adapts to the participant without requiring explicit actions. Second, to achieve a head pose invariant gaze estimation, we propose a method to correct the eye image appearance variations due to head pose. We then investigate on two different methodologies to infer the 3D gaze direction. The first one builds upon machine learning regression techniques. In this context, we propose strategies to improve their generalization, in particular, to handle different people. The second methodology is a new paradigm we propose and call geometric generative gaze estimation. This novel approach combines the benefits of geometric eye modeling (normally restricted to high resolution images due to the difficulty of feature extraction) with a stochastic segmentation process (adapted to low-resolution) within a Bayesian model allowing the decoupling of user specific geometry and session specific appearance parameters, along with the introduction of priors, which are appropriate for adaptation relying on small amounts of data. The aforementioned gaze estimation methods are validated through extensive experiments in a comprehensive database which we collected and made publicly available. Finally, we study the problem of automatic gaze coding in natural dyadic and group human interactions. The system builds upon the thesis contributions to handle unconstrained head movements and the lack of user calibration. It further exploits the 3D tracking of participants and their gaze to conduct a 3D geometric analysis within a multi-camera setup. Experiments on real and natural interactions demonstrate the system is highly accuracy. Overall, the methods developed in this dissertation are suitable for many applications, involving large diversity in terms of setup configuration, user calibration and mobility.

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