The eyes have it: Sweden’s Tobii Pro sees value of Fairfax County location for pursuing innovation and serving customers

Tobii Pro develops and sells eye-tracking technology such as a screen-based eye tracker, eye-tracking glasses, research consultancy services and software analytics tools that help customers such as Fortune 500 companies and academic institutions understand human behavior.

Tobii Pro is part of the Tobii Group, a Swedish technology company founded in 2001. Tobii Pro established its North American headquarters in Virginia in 2005 and moved to Reston in 2018 to accommodate company growth. Today the Reston location houses various departments in operations, finance, sales and marketing, and has a research lab facility available for customer use and training.

E-Bird Extra caught up with Joanna Parker, General Manager, North and South America, to learn more about Tobii Pro and what makes Fairfax County a great place to do business.

E-Bird Extra: What does Tobii Pro do?

Joanna Parker: We empower professionals with tools to gain a deeper understanding of human behavior in order to achieve new discoveries, possibilities and innovative breakthroughs. The applications of eye tracking are endless, but Tobii Pro focuses specifically on three different areas: providing scientific researchers with high performing research tools, providing marketers with consumer insights to create better user experiences, and creating ways for users to better engage with their audiences. We also consult with industries trying to deal with the shift to Industry 4.0, making it possible for businesses to see their day-to-day operations through the eyes of their employees.

Joanna Parker talks about Tobii Pro in this FCEDA Innovation Series video

EE: What is eye tracking?

JP: Eye tracking is a technology that very accurately tracks where, when and what a person is looking at. It is used extensively as a research tool to understand human behavior. From knowing someone’s visual attention pattern, you can draw conclusions such as what drives behaviors and decision making, as well as understanding a person’s situational awareness or cognitive load while performing tasks in a work environment. The technology can be integrated into a pair of glasses, a virtual-reality headset, or attached to a screen. 

EE: Why study attention?

JP: Attention is a key indicator of what engages people. Ninety percent of what we take in and what our brain processes is visual. Eye tracking provides an in-depth look at what’s happening in our minds – what interests us, what we ignore, what engages and influences us – because it reveals our subconscious behaviors. Eye tracking gives us an understanding of human behavior not possible to obtain in any other way.

EE: What has company growth been like?

JP: Tobii Pro was founded in 2001 by three Swedish entrepreneurs who expanded to create a North American headquarters in Virginia in 2005 with only four people. In 2018 we moved the headquarters to Reston and now have more than 30 personnel housed in our location here. Globally, Tobii has about 1200 amazing “Tobiians” of which about 300 work within Tobii Pro. What’s made our growth possible is product innovation, increased eye-tracking awareness, entering new markets, large customers wins, and company acquisitions.

EE: What takes place in your Reston office?

JP: Tobii Pro believes in serving our customers locally in order to provide the best market knowledge and accessibility. In Reston, we house main business departments such as sales and marketing, operations, training, consulting. We also have a research consultancy team that conducts eye tracking studies on behalf of brands. They work out in the field and utilize our in-house research lab which is also available for rent. Clients may us the space to conduct focus groups as well as qualitative and quantitative research projects. The product components are assembled and shipped from our business headquarters in Sweden.

EE: Who uses your products and how?

JP: Our technology has long served academic research institutions and is now making breakthroughs in the commercial world. Many Fortune 500 companies including Microsoft, Google, H&M, Procter & Gamble, and research agencies such as Ipsos and Nielsen use Tobii Pro solutions and services. In addition, we work with top academic institutions that utilize Tobii Pro eye-trackers to drive science forward. Examples of these institutions are Yale, Stanford, Cambridge and MIT.

Eye tracking has helped many manufacturing businesses cut training/on-boarding time to ultimately increase productivity. Photo courtesy Tobii Pro

EE: What are your latest innovations?

JP: We have taken on the challenge to perfect eye tracking technology and are constantly innovating to meet that challenge. One example is our newest eye tracker called Tobii Pro Fusion. The size and portability of this tool enables researchers to get out of the research lab and run collect high quality data in the field. Additionally, the wearable eye trackers Tobii Pro Glasses 2 are designed to capture natural viewing behavior in a real-world environment. Examples of application of use would be studying shopper behavior while visiting a grocery, unboxing a product in the home or surfing a website. Using this technology to look through the eyes of consumers, marketing researchers can study human behavior in ways not possible before.

Since launching the first eye tracker in 2002, today we have a comprehensive product portfolio of eye-tracking research tools such as high-performance hardware systems, software, cloud solutions, and research consulting services.

EE: What does the future look like in terms of new products, growth and uses?

JP: So many decisions today are driven by data, and gathering insights is becoming increasingly important. Eye-tracking data is one input that provides information on human behavior. We plan to continue refining our products to keep offering the best data possible and share our knowledge from 20 years of making sense of this data.

The “attention economy” and an ever-changing market landscape calls for a true understanding of the customer and the need to test, test and test again to create a great customer experience. We will continue to push the envelope to make eye tracking more accessible to our clients.

Eye tracking can be used to study learning and development. Photo courtesy Tobii Pro

EE: What separates Tobii Pro from the competition?

JP: While Tobii Pro has the largest global reach, the most patents and the broadest product portfolio, I would say that it is really our people and our values that separate us from the competition. Innovation, passion and genuinely wanting our customer to be successful is truly at the heart of our company. 

EE: Why is Fairfax County a great place for Tobii Pro to do business?

JP: With more and more business being done virtually and some of our workforce working remotely, it helps to be near a hub where it makes it easy to meet in-person when needed. We elected to move to Reston to be close to Dulles International Airport and other technology companies, many of which are our customers. Reston Town Center is perfect for business lunches. We also have easy access to highways, the Metro and all that Washington, D.C., has to offer without needing to be located in the congestion of the city. 

EE: What makes Tobii Pro a great place to work?

JP: Our employees make Tobii Pro a great place to work. You are at the heart of innovation while one of our top initiatives this year is to help our employees maintain a healthy work-life balance. Having easy access to the W&OD trail and the many fitness facilities housed in Reston aligns very well with our company’s core values.