Dutch scientists at IMEC's prestigious Holst Centre have just developed a revolutionary eye-tracking device. People involved in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) believe this new sensor could make current headsets more affordable and more precise.
These amazingly intricate tracking devices use electrical sensing to pick up on subtle eye movements. In total, four electrodes are placed around a pair of glasses. Two electrodes focus on the eye's vertical movements, whereas the other two focus on the horizontal. All of the data collected by these electrodes is easily decoded using the research team's algorithm.
Interestingly, IMEC is the first company to successfully experiment with electrical sensing specifically for eye movements. The only technology used to track eyes nowadays is the HD camera. While these cameras work well, they can't catch rapid eye movement. In particular, HD cameras have a hard time picking up on "saccades," which refers to the extremely fast movement of the eye while reading.
While it's not impossible to use an HD camera to pick up on subtle eye movements, it's extremely costly. VR and AR companies fear putting more sophisticated cameras into their products would only drive up their costs, thus making their products less commercially successful.
That's why IMEC's electrical sensing technology is such an attractive option for VR and AR companies. This wireless tracking technology could actually make VR and AR headsets more affordable to individual consumers. IMEC employees say their electrodes can detect eye movement four times faster than current HD cameras, plus they can drive down costs of VR headsets by as much as five times the current rate.
Besides making higher quality video game headsets, IMEC believes its electrical sensing technology could have important scientific applications. Some IMEC researchers are excited to use these electrodes to gain greater insight into the nature of the human eye.
Developers testing out these electrodes spent a great deal of time analyzing the accuracy of the sensor's blink detection system. They found that most users were able to easily move a cursor around a screen without even lifting their hand. The users were able to deliberately blink various commands such as opening files, closing webpages, and even dragging and dropping applications.
Holst Centre researchers say they would like to work on integrating this electrode technology with standard HD cameras. The combined powers of both the cameras and the electrodes might have interesting applications in the future of VR and AR technologies.
Gabriel Squillace, an employee in IMEC's Biomedical Applications & Systems department, said these electrodes work so well because the human eye already has a "natural electrical potential." The Dutch researchers were just able to exploit the eye's electrical field. He went on to say, "IMEC's ultimate goal is to develop a solution that can track the eye's most rapid movements…enabling seamless real time tracking for AR and VR applications."
IMEC is a highly regarded nanotech research company based in Belgium. Founded in 1984, IMEC now has secondary headquarters in numerous countries including the USA, Taiwan, and India.
The Holst Centre is located in the Dutch city of Eindhoven and is focused on researching and developing new wireless technologies. Both IMEC and the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (aka TNO) founded the Holst Centre in 2005.