This time, they showed me a full roster of eye tracking solutions for both standalone and PC headsets.
Pico G2 4K with eye trackingThe product that surprised me the most has been a Pico Goblin 2 4K with embedded eye tracking. I thought that this was another prototype that they made to showcase their expertise, but actually, Richard of 7Invensun told me that it is a product that the company is already selling in China. It looks exactly like a Pico G2, but there are two noticeable differences: the first one is a cable that goes out from the facemask and gets plugged into the USB port of the device. The second one is the two eye-tracking inserts around the lenses.
I asked why the need of that cable coming out from the headset: since this product has been made in partnership with Pico, I thought that everything should be embedded into the device. The guys at 7Invensun answered me that this product has been developed only after the Pico G2 had already been engineered. This means that the PCB of the device was already been produced and it didn’t feature the connectors where to attach the eye tracking devices. So, the eye tracking system could only be connected to the USB port of the headset. But in future versions this hack should disappear, and you will be able to buy standalone headsets with completely integrated eye tracking.
Plus, eye tracking enables foveated rendering, which empowers developers to improve performance and enhance visual fidelity in virtual and extended reality experiences. VIVE is releasing a separate foveated rendering plugin for Unity and NVIDIA will launch the Variable Rate Shading or VRS Wrapper, which is part of the VRWorks Graphics SDK.
I went on to try the device and I was pleasantly surprised by it.The eye tracking addition didn’t made the device more uncomfortable, it was for me exactly as a Pico G2. After I wore it, Istarted a calibration procedure, and I had to follow some points on the screen by just moving my eyes. The calibration for eye tracking is always quite short (it lasts 30 seconds), but it is still, in my opinion, a step that has to be removed to make eye tracking more usable and widespread. In some contexts, like for instance exhibitions, it is really a big nuisance.
The U.S. Government Loves VR. Both NASA and the U.S. military are investing in virtual reality. NASA uses the technology to try to connect engineers with the devices they send into space. Using the Oculus, and motion sensing equipment from the Xbox One gaming console, NASA engineers are developing ways to control a robotic arm with gestures made by the operator here on Earth. The military uses VR to recruit and to train soldiers before they are deployed. The simulated scenarios provide opportunities for teams to work together in immersive, realistic environments to better prepare them for the chaos of combat.
After the calibration, I have been able to try some experiences:
- In the first one, I was looking into a mirror, seeing myself as a female avatar. I could move my eyes and the avatar in the mirror could follow those movements. The eye blinking was also tracked: not only the eyelid opened/closed status, but also various intermediate statuses;
- In the second one, I could play a whack-a-mole game by just looking at the moles;
- In the third one, I could see some bullseyes in front of me, and looking at their centers, I could spot if the eye tracking was precise enough.
From these tests, I could see that the eye tracking performed really well. In my last year’s tests, the tracking on the standalone headset was already quite good, butthis year it was absolutely faster and more precise, especially if I looked in the periphery of my vision. I was impressed.
7Invensun claims having only 1 degree of error in the perception of the gaze directionand I think that if your eyes are looking straight in front of you, this claim is right. If you are looking at the periphery of your vision, the precision seems less… but it is anyway far better than how it was one year ago. I think that now standalone headsets with eye tracking are finally usable.
The only problem that I found in my demo was a slight delay in the blink detection, that seemed to be performed by the avatar some instants after my actual blink. 7Invensun guys answered me that they have reduced the tracking framerate to 30Hz to spare the mobile device battery, and so the tracking could have a slight delay and may also miss some fast eye-lid movements.
I so asked them what is the power consumption of having eye tracking on a standalone headset. They answered that sinceall the algorithms run on a dedicated DSP, the consumption is not that much. The headset can run formore or less 2 hours, a time that is not that distant from the duration of the battery of the Pico G2 without eye tracking.The Pico G2 4K with integrated eye tracking is on sale in China for 10,000 yuan (more or less $1500). Typical customers of this device are companies interested in training, education, rehabilitation. If you are interested in buying it, you should know that 7Invensun is open to ship the device worldwide to interested customers. Just contact them directly to purchase your device or contact me and I will be very happy to help you with the introductions.
The VFX-1. We can’t do a list about the history of Virtual Reality and not include the VFX-1. Released in the middle of the 1990s, the VFX-1 system was one of the most capable virtual reality headsets released on the market at the time. With stereoscopic 3D, multi-axis head movement detection and rotation, and the ability to play games that were not truly supported by the system, the VFX-1 was the true Virtual Reality deal at the time. Furthermore, their price tag was relatively cheap compared to other products on the market, coming at a mere $600. However, the VFX-1 was too advanced of a technology and it didn’t really take off. Later on, the company Vuzix that made the glasses was bought by Forte Technologies, which released a more expensive VFX 3D version, but it also didn’t manage to achieve huge success.
Vive Pro with eye trackingI have already described you my experience with the Vive Pro Eye, that is a Vive Pro that has embedded the eye tracking by Tobii. 7Invensun wanted to make me try a Vive Pro with the eye tracking provided by them.
From the short demos that I have tried on both, I can tell you thatthe performances are really comparable. On PC,I have not even experienced the lag on the blinking detectionthat I have found on the standalone headset. This is because thanks to the high computational power of the desktop PC, the eye tracking can run at 120 Hz and so be more precise and reactive.For software developers, the good news is that all applications that are developed with HTC’s SRanipal SDK, the one used to implement lip and eye tracking in applications for Vive devices, work in the same way with Tobii’s and 7Invensun’s eye tracking accessories. This means that an app developed for the Vive Pro Eye can work without a single change with the Vive Pro + 7Invensun eye tracking add-on.
Standard glasses with eye tracking
What about attaching an eye-tracking device to a pair of standard glasses?7Invensun is experimenting with this as well.
It has developed an add-on that you can attach to certain frames of glasses to see what the wearer is looking at. This special eye-tracking frame can be connected to a PC or to a phone to analyze the gaze data of the user.
Ihave tried it and it worked quite well. I followed the finger of one of 7Invensun’s employees for some seconds, then we looked at the data collected by the device. I could see clearly a recording of what I was looking at in a video, with a heatmap indicating the parts of the images I was focusing on and in what order.
This may be useful for jealous women that want to check if their boyfriends are looking at other women 😀 Jokes apart, it can be useful for companies wanting to analyze users’ behavior. For instance, some people of a test group can be sent in a supermarket to buy some stuff with these special glasses on. After that, some experts will analyze their gaze data to understandwhat is the user behaviour inside the shop and modify the disposition of the sold items so that to increase the sales.
As every time I visit 7Invensun, I came out from my visit very satisfied both from a professional and personal standpoint. I really thank Lee and Richard for the time that we have spent together.
The VR Cardboard launched by Google was a Side Project developed by David Coz and Damien Henry. They created this project during the Google’s “Innovation Time Off” program in which developers were encouraged to spend 20 percent of their time on the things of their interest.
And even if I shouldn’t tell you, the company showed me some of its future products that will be revealed soon and that are great! Stay tuned for future updates on this company… 😉
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