Virgin Mobile’s YouTube channel uses ‘BlinkWashing’ to change the ad whenever you blink

Virgin Mobile’s YouTube page has one of the coolest things I’ve seen online in some time. It is using a webcam technology it calls “BlinkWashing” to track your eye movements and change the ad whenever you blink. It’s mesmerizing.

This is how it works: Once you give Virgin permission to fire up your webcam, it goes through a quick calibration process of finding your eyes and asking you to blink on two separate instances. It takes less than a minute. Virgin has created a series of 25 different clips, and every time you blink it skips from one clip to the next.

I’m not quite sure what purpose Blinkwashing could serve in a practical setting, since it is nearly impossible not to blink, especially when you’re trying not to. I just spent the last 10 minutes in varied states of teariness, blinking a lot at first just to see if it worked, then trying to keep my eyes open for as long as possible to see if I could make it through an entire clip. It turns out that I couldn’t, but I like the potential of hands-free control using just a standard webcam.

And the technology works surprisingly well. It registered almost all of my blinks, even with a pair of glasses reflecting the sun. And, to Virgin Mobile’s credit, I spent much longer watching an online commercial than I probably ever have, which also makes this a pretty effective marketing tool.

We’ll be highlighting the next-generation of user interfaces at our RoadMap conference in November in San Francisco.