Virtual Reality has come a very long way since Jaron Lanier invented the concept in the 1980s. It still has some critical shortcomings however, and one of the most basic is a lack of eye contact.
It’s one thing to wander through a vast virtual territory but as soon as you meet anyone, whether a designed character or another virtual wanderer, humans will invariably seek eye contact.
In Japan, Fove Inc., led by 29-year-old Yuka Kojima, is trying to address that. Fove has the first commercially available VR goggles that can, by means of tiny infrared cameras, track the iris.
The goals are several: to reduce motion sickness, to improve the graphics and most importantly, to improve social interaction
Eye contact is critical for several reasons. You can assess intent, you can begin to deceive (critical in virtual games and athletic competitions) and you can form attachments.
As VR advances, it will develop in many unforeseen ways, but human interaction will remain at the heart of this remarkable innovation and as always, the eyes have it and eye tracking will be critical to any successes.
Take boredom. In any game, in any environment, people’s attention will wander. With eye tracking, VR will be able to realize when this is happening and find ways to refocus attention.
Kojima offers an example: in a Fove demo, a kidnapper shows you three pictures and one of them is of a friend. The system tries to detect your reactions by your eye movements. If your attention lingers too long, your friend will be identified.
Fove seeks to build a large database and then to build algorithms from that data. Fove may then opt to license the data to other companies. Kojima points to Dolby audio as a model and suggests Fove could be baked into everything.
It’s a company, in short, worth keeping an eye on.