Eye-Controlled Gaming May Be Closer Than It Appears

One of the biggest bugbears for gamers has long been the need to use a joystick to both track a target and control the motion of their avatar or weapons, but at International CES 2014 next week, Tobii Technology will demonstrate a new solution.

Tobii has teamed up with SteelSeries, the companies announced Friday, to produce what they claim will be the first mass-market eye tracking peripheral for gamers.

Tobii will demo its EyeX Controller at CES as well as offering a Tobii EyeX Developer Kit for preorder to developers at the show for US$95, presumably to encourage the creation of games that rely on eye tracking.

An eye tracking gaming peripheral “will make targeting in first-person shooting games far quicker and far more fun,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld.

SteelSeries will announce further details about the partnership and products over the next several months.

Tobii’s Technology

Tobii’s eye tracking technology uses one or more near-infrared illuminators that are invisible to the human eye to create reflection patterns on the corneas of users’ eyes.

Image sensors capture the images of the users’ eyes. Those images are processed to detect the exact position of the pupils and/or irises, identify the correct reflections from the illuminators and pinpoint their exact positions.

A mathematical model of the eye is then used to calculate the position of the user’s eyes in 3D along with the point of gaze.

“I can understand the value of eye tracking in the context of video games,” Lewis Ward, research director for gaming at IDC, told TechNewsWorld. “It goes along with the idea of natural user interfaces or more human-centric approaches to technologies.”

‘First’ is Such a Strong Adjective

It’s not clear whether Tobii’s gaming peripheral will indeed break new ground.

“We’ve had eye tracking technology around for a while,” Enderle said. “There have been some attempts to create eye tracking products, but I’m not aware of anything that has made it to volume.”

Mirametrix Gaming already offers the S2 Eye Tracker and associated software to gamers, and claims that is the first such product on the market.

Here’s the catch: The S2 Eye Tracker starts at CA$5,000. Academic and volume discounts are available.

Mirametrix did not respond to our request for further details.

Other companies offering eye tracking products include LC Technologies, SMI and Dynavoxtech. While their products are not offered to gamers, the technology could be adapted for such use.

Meanwhile, LG and Samsung both offer eye tracking technology in mobile phones, and Apple will reportedly include eye tracking in a forthcoming hybrid product called the iPad Pro. It’s not clear how eye tracking technology in mobile devices might impact gaming.

Will the Market Love the Product?

Unless the new products from Tobii and SteelSeries get support from major platform manufacturers such as Microsoft, Sony or Nintendo, they may not take off, IDC’s Ward suggested.

“Until it’s built into a given platform as a standard piece of technology that would be propagated for the next five to 10 years and you could count on it as a developer or a publisher, I’m skeptical about the ability of such a product to be anything more than a niche product or something that’s going to move beyond the novelty stage,” Ward explained.

Eye tracking might provide a subtle yet immersive and more powerful gaming experience, but “whether that’s worth $95 and X amount of time or money from game developers to create games is doubtful, because all you have to do to provide a better experience is to tweak the controller half an inch,” Ward stated.

“If you look at eye tracking technology as just for gaming, it’s not that interesting,” Maribel Lopez, principal analyst at Lopez Research, told TechNewsWorld. “But if you look at gaming as the first real-world application, then it’s opening the door to other applications of the technology.”

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