Qualcomm has recently introduced a prototype for a standalone virtual reality headset. They meant it to be an all-inclusive device that won’t attached to other hardware with wires or cables. However, eye tracking to VR is only in the prototype phase now. The developers are still working on it before it can be finalized and officially released.
Makers hold up the prototype headset to the users face, and they then are able to see an avatar version of themselves looking back at them. As the user moves his or her head from side to side, so does the avatar. But, unlike the human user, the traditional avatar’s eye remains in place in the centre of their eye sockets. Sounds like a typical virtual reality avatar experience, until a button activates the avatar’s abilities. With a simple touch of a button, the avatar track the user eyes and respond accordingly.
Instead of the avatar feeling like it could not show facial expressions, and well, felt like an avatar, the new eye tracking technology made it possible to reflect the facial expression and eye movement of the user. As the user’s eye movement, the avatars pupils also moved. If the user blinked or winked, so would the avatar. As a result, the avatar’s eye would do exactly the same thing as the user’s eyes.
Tobii is a Swedish company, which worked on developing the eye-tracking technology in the prototype headset. It used cameras to follow the eye movement of the user, which they then translated into the movement of the avatar’s eyes. Tobii joined with Qualcomm to introduce the first ever mass-produced virtual reality headset for consumer use, which used eye-tracking technology. While developers are still finalizing it, they expect to release it much sooner than consumers had previously thought possible.
For years, the world has discussed the potential of eye tracking technology. To some extent, the technology already existed and they crowdsourced it in some settings. But the actual use of a mass-produced product available to consumers never existed. The reveal by Qualcomm and Tobbi though has to lead to other companies rushing to make the same technology available in their consumer products as well.
There is potential for eye-tracking technology beyond simply allowing the eyes and facial expressions of an avatar to reflect that of the user. There is also the potential for the same technology to allow the user’s eye to become the selection tool instead of needing to use a separate device, like a controller to interact with and select objects in the virtual reality world. This also means there is a greater reduction in movement and fatigue of the user making it possible to enjoy the virtual reality experience even more than ever before.
Some wonder if the use of eye tracking to VR technology will also carry over into collecting data for marketing and advertising purposes. Since the tracking technology not only sees the movement of the user’s eyes, it is also able to capture how long the user looks at something, thereby focusing his or her attention on something. So the question still remains if they use the technology for gaze-tracking purposes. According to Tobbi, they have still not used this technology, but the potential still exists.
Eye tracking to VR is only one of the ways virtual reality is advancing. The technology is also making the devices lighter, higher definition, and more realistic for users. There is no doubt that eye tracking is just one step in the evolution of the virtual reality experience.
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