Tobii’s Next Generation VR Headsets feature Eye Tracking

Tobii’s Next Generation VR Headsets feature Eye Tracking

Tobii, a Swedish high-technology company has been exploring the potential of eye tracking for a while, is hoping to integrate its technology into the next gen of VR headsets.

Tobii first showed off its technology integrated into the HTC Vive at GDC last year. But at CES 2018, it unveiled some new experiences to demonstrate the benefits of eye tracking. Aside from some sensor rings around the Vive’s lenses, it didn’t look as if added much to the headset. Instead, its hardware is able to seamlessly fit inside the Vive.

Devindra Hardawar, Engadget Senior Editor was present at the CES 2018 event and he got to experience Tobii:

To calibrate the tracking, I followed a dot around the display for a while using just my eyes. Then I was presented with a mirror that reflected my VR avatar. It tracked my head movement around, as usual, but the eyes were blank and expressionless. Then I moved on to another mirror with eye-tracking enabled. When I blinked, my avatar blinked. It’s a small thing, but it went a long way toward making the experience feel more immersive. I wasn’t constantly reminded by the limitations of expression in VR.

Then I moved on to a screen featuring two robots. When I glanced at them, they made direct eye contact and responded with text messages. There’s an uncanny social awareness to them, as if they’re actually aware of your intent on having a conversation. This sort of feedback could easily make it seem like you’re chatting organically with game characters. And it could be even more useful in social VR environments — just imagine how awkward it’d be if we were stuck with boring avatars that didn’t reflect our eye movement.

Without eye tracking, it was almost impossible to accurately knock down anything. But with the feature turned on, all you have to do was focus on one bottle, throw the rock with enough virtual momentum, and down it went. As he smoothly knocked down most of the bottles on the screen, he felt like he had superpowered accuracy.

New for CES was a trio of experiences showing off Tobii’s technology. One was a virtual living room, where you can select something to watch by moving eyes across a media library. Today you’d have to either rely on a controller’s touchpad or crane your entire head around to interact with virtual objects. It’s not just a clunky way to replace something you can do in real life easily, like scroll through your Netflix queue. It adds a whole new capability that was never possible without eye tracking.

Next, there was a virtual loft playing an augmented reality game. On left was Mars, while Earth was on right. The goal was to launch rockets from Mars and make them hit alien ships floating around Earth. We could spin both planets, which changed the of the rockets and the ships, and there was a button for turning Tobii’s tech on and off. Naturally, the game was much easier to play when we could just look at a planet and rotate it with the Vive controller’s touchpad. Doing that manually, by selecting a planet with the controller, was far less fluid and made the game nearly impossible to play.

With eye tracking in Tobii’s scenario, you only need to look at a button to select it. The company’s tracking technology did a solid job of choosing the right button most of the time, even though the demo had plenty of other things to select nearby.

In addition to simply making VR more fluid, Tobii claims that eye tracking will also allow for more efficient foveated rendering. That’s a technique that makes your computer devote most of its graphics power to what you’re seeing, while keeping offscreen content at a lower quality. Typically, foveated rendering works across the entire screen, no matter where you’re technically looking. But with eye tracking, it can focus the best quality to what your eyes are actually pointed at, while slightly downgrading what’s around it.

While VR is the most immediate and obvious fit for Tobii, the company is still aiming to work with more PC manufacturers to build eye tracking into their laptops. Currently, more than 100 games support the technology as well. You can also expect to see Tobii’s eye tracking in even thinner laptops over the next few years. (Right now it’s mainly relegated to beefy gaming notebooks.) The company let me take a glimpse at its upcoming “IS5” sensor design, which is significantly smaller and slimmer than its current solution (above). In particular, the has been dramatically shrunken down.

Tobii’s CEO, Henrik Eskilsson, told that eye tracking will eventually be viewed as a requirement for VR. Accurate eye tracking delivers a better sense of presence, which is really the ultimate goal for virtual reality. Trying Tobii’s technology for just 30 minutes has already ruined for every VR headset without it.


Tobii's Next Generation VR Headsets feature Eye Tracking
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Tobii's Next Generation VR Headsets feature Eye Tracking
Tobii, a Swedish high-technology company has been exploring the potential of eye tracking for a while, is hoping to integrate its technology into the next gen of VR headsets.
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