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26 February 2019 | Story Eugene Seegers | Photo Eugene Seegers
Prof Francis Petersen, Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Daniella Coetzee, South Campus Principal, Tshegofatso Setilo, Director Access, Prof Prakash Naidoo, Vice-Rector Operations
Prof Francis Petersen, Prof Daniella Coetzee (Principal: South Campus), Tshegofatso Setilo (Head: Access Programmes), and Prof Prakash Naidoo (Vice-Rector: Operations) on the South Campus for the welcoming of first-years.


“Welcome to the South Campus of the University of the Free State!” Addressing a packed Madiba Arena, Prof Francis Petersen, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS, said he was happy to see not only first-year students, but also parents and guardians, student leadership, and support staff from both the Bloemfontein and South Campuses.

 “I would like to congratulate each of our first-year students for making the decision to come to Kovsies to further your studies here. But I would also like to thank you for making this choice,” he continued.

Prof Petersen further emphasised that the students’ experience and success as individuals are important to the UFS as an institution; therefore, academic and support staff are on hand to guide them through their journey to becoming well-rounded individuals. “We will surely take care of you,” said Prof Petersen. He also reassured parents and guardians that their loved ones would be well looked after.

The Rector also focused attention on the role of student-leadership structures, such as the newly-formed Institutional Student Representative Council (ISRC) and South Campus SRC, members of which were present in the audience. He thanked them for playing a key role in the student constituency, highlighting their support and guidance to help first-years cultivate a sense of belonging at the UFS.

Turning back to first-year students, Prof Petersen stated that they have the unique opportunity to study on a campus specifically focused on developing their full potential, a campus where they can realise their dreams. “Your arrival on the campus marks a new chapter in your life. This chapter is slightly different, as you are the author thereof. The previous chapters in your life were largely written by others—your parents, guardians, families, teachers, and others. You will now be the main author in the next chapter of your unique story.”

“At Kovsies, we believe in developing students in their totality as human beings, not just the academic side. May your time with us equip you to make a success of your life after university!”

Prof Petersen’s Message to First-year Students
  1. Take responsibility for your academic programme.
    • Keep your focus. Study and study hard. You will reap the rewards and see the advantages of making success in your studies a top priority.
    • Make sure that you have enough time for your studies; balance your social life and your time set aside to study.
  2. Realise and remember that you are not alone.
    • If you find things difficult, seek help.
    • Our Department of Student Counselling and Development has trained staff and tailor-made programmes that can assist you.
    • Look after your mental health—and look after each other’s mental health.
  3. Make the most of your time at Kovsies.
    • Join one or more of the student organisations; why not try something new?
  4. Embrace difference and diversity.
    • Get to know students who are different from you.
    • You will lose valuable opportunities to grow if you only associate with your own all the time. It is important to get to know students who are different from you. It could be someone from a different part of the country, or from another country, a different ethnicity, a different religion, someone who has different views from yours, or who has different interests and perspectives.

News Archive

Eye tracker device a first in Africa
2013-07-31

 

 31 July 2013

Keeping an eye on empowerment

"If we can see what you see, we can think what you think."

Eye-tracking used to be one of those fabulous science-fiction inventions, along with Superman-like bionic ability. Could you really use the movement of your eyes to read people's minds? Or drive your car? Or transfix your enemy with a laser-beam?

Well, actually, yes, you can (apart, perhaps, from the laser beam… ). An eye tracker is not something from science fiction; it actually exists, and is widely used around the world for a number of purposes.

Simply put, an eye tracker is a device for measuring eye positions and eye movement. Its most obvious use is in marketing, to find out what people are looking at (when they see an advertisement, for instance, or when they are wandering along a supermarket aisle). The eye tracker measures where people look first, what attracts their attention, and what they look at the longest. It is used extensively in developed countries to predict consumer behaviour, based on what – literally – catches the eye.

On a more serious level, psychologists, therapists and educators can also use this device for a number of applications, such as analysis and education. And – most excitingly – eye tracking can be used by disabled people to use a computer and thereby operate a number of devices and machines. Impaired or disabled people can use eye tracking to get a whole new lease on life.

In South Africa and other developing countries, however, eye tracking is not widely used. Even though off-the-shelf webcams and open-source software can be obtained extremely cheaply, they are complex to use and the quality cannot be guaranteed. Specialist high-quality eye-tracking devices have to be imported, and they are extremely expensive – or rather – they used to be. Not anymore.

The Department of Computer Science and Informatics (CSI) at the University of the Free State has succeeded in developing a high-quality eye tracker at a fraction of the cost of the imported devices. Along with the hardware, the department has also developed specialised software for a number of applications. These would be useful for graphic designers, marketers, analysts, cognitive psychologists, language specialists, ophthalmologists, radiographers, occupational and speech therapists, and people with disabilities. In the not-too-distant future, even fleet owners and drivers would be able to use this technology.

"The research team at CSI has many years of eye-tracking experience," says team leader Prof Pieter Blignaut, "both with the technical aspect as well as the practical aspect. We also provide a multi-dimensional service to clients that includes the equipment, training and support. We even provide feedback to users.

"We have a basic desktop model available that can be used for research, and can be adapted so that people can interact with a computer. It will be possible in future to design a device that would be able to operate a wheelchair. We are working on a model incorporated into a pair of glasses which will provide gaze analysis for people in their natural surroundings, for instance when driving a vehicle.

"Up till now, the imported models have been too expensive," he continues. "But with our system, the technology is now within reach for anyone who needs it. This could lead to economic expansion and job creation."

The University of the Free State is the first manufacturer of eye-tracking devices in Africa, and Blignaut hopes that the project will contribute to nation-building and empowerment.

"The biggest advantage is that we now have a local manufacturer providing a quality product with local training and support."

In an eye-tracking device, a tiny infra-red light shines on the eye and causes a reflection which is picked up by a high-resolution camera. Every eye movement causes a change in the reflection, which is then mapped. Infra-red light is not harmful to the eye and is not even noticed. Eye movement is then completely natural.

Based on eye movements, a researcher can study cognitive patterns, driver behaviour, attention spans, even thinking patterns. A disabled person could use their eye-movements to interact with a computer, with future technology (still in development) that would enable that computer to control a wheelchair or operate machinery.

The UFS recently initiated the foundation of an eye-tracking interest group for South Africa (ETSA) and sponsor a biennial-eye tracking conference. Their website can be found at www.eyetrackingsa.co.za.

“Eye tracking is an amazing tool for empowerment and development in Africa, “ says Blignaut, “but it is not used as much as it should be, because it is seen as too expensive. We are trying to bring this technology within the reach of anyone and everyone who needs it.”

Issued by: Lacea Loader
Director: Strategic Communication

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