Eye Tracking Will Launch Virtual Reality into Iron Man Era
The next big jump in virtual reality technology is most likely going to be eye tracking. With this, head mounted headsets will have laser beams aimed at the eyeballs and turn your peepers into a mouse. A number of startups are already working on this technology and their goal is to convince VR gear manufacturers such as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive to include this new feature into a next generation device. Some of these new features include SMI, Percept, Eyematic, Fove, and Eyefluence and they have all recently enabled USA Today to demo its eye tracking tech.
Eyefluence is one of the eye tracking startups that is pursuing a way for users to move through a series of options by just using their eyes.
“Eye-tracking is almost guaranteed to be in second-generation VR headsets,” says Will Mason, cofounder of virtual reality media company UploadVR. “It’s an incredibly important piece of the VR puzzle.”
With the current level of technology, making selections in VR or AR environments requires the user to move his head so that his gaze lands on a clickable icon and thereafter pressing a handheld remote or in the case of some of the headsets, reaching out with your hands to make a selection by interacting with a hologram. With the Eyefluence, all of this will be achieved by simply casting your eyes on a given icon and then activating it with another glance.
“The idea here is that anything you do with your finger on a smartphone you can do with your eyes in VR or AR,” says Eyefluence CEO, Jim Marggraff, who cofounded the Milpitas, Calif-based company in 2013 with another entrepreneur, David Stiehr.
This technology will make the seemingly futuristic tech that iron Man uses for his suit a close reality as these augmented reality goggles will be operated hands free.
“Computers made a big leap when they went from punchcards to a keyboard, and then another from a keyboard to a mouse,” says Marggraff, who invented the kid-focused LeapFrog LeapPad device. “We want to again change the way we interface with data.”
The Technology is still a Few Years Out
As intriguing as this all sounds, the mainstreaming of the eye tracking technology is still a little way down the road. According to Eyefluence executives, they are in talks with a number of headset manufacturers but the tech isn’t likely to be available until 2017. Other companies remain mostly in R&D mode.
The challenges for eye tracking are dual form in the sense of the technical and financial angles. Manufacturing hardware that consistently locks onto an infinite variety of eyeballs is a major hurdle and the gear must be kept light and have little power consumption which makes the task all the more daunting.
Another company that is working on eye tracking is Fove and they are trying to incorporate eye tracking into a VR headset.
“What eye-tracking will do will be powerful, but I’m not sure how valuable it will be from an investment standpoint,” says Kobie Fuller of Accel Partners. “Is there a multi-billion-dollar eye-tracking company out there? I don’t know.”
With time and a consistent drive towards this technology all of the constraints and barriers will eventually be broken and this technology will be available in the VR world.