The Oculus Rift virtual reality headset could soon be getting a boost in functionality. SensoMotoric Instruments (SMI) is planning on adding eye tracking to the Oculus' recently-released Development Kit 2 (DK2).
Out of the box, the DK2 is able to track the head motion of the user with a series of sensors and a camera, but it's not able to see the actual eye movement of the wearer. This could break the immersion for some, since one's view changes when his or eyes are averted.
SMI has developed a number of eye-tracking devices, so it makes sense that it would be the first to bring the technology to the Rift. The team showed off its eye-tracking tech on the Oculus Rift DK1 at the Vision Science Society (VSS) and Siggraph conferences, and it cites the positive response as the reason it pushed to get the DK2 kit together as quickly as possible.
The possible-use cases for technology like this could be far-reaching, provided it functions well. VR developers using Oculus for games could use it to create a greater sense of immersion and realism, scientists using the Rift in studies could gain access to more accurate data, and so on.
The actual hardware is based on the company's eye-tracking glasses, so it comes from tech that is already in use.
As one might expect, the eye-tracking platform comes with an SDK that grants developers access to all kinds of eye movement data that can be used in their applications. Everything from eye and gaze position to eye screen distance can be tracked, and with the SDK, that data can be used in all kinds of creative ways. Support for a range of VR development platforms is included. Popular options like WorldViz Vizard VR engine and Unity will work with it.
Of course, the limitation one can see here is that it's not an official Oculus device, and as such, it's a niche product in an already limited market. It will be interesting to see how many DK2 owners add this to their hardware, and even further, how many developers actually incorporate the tech in their apps and games. For developers looking to use the technology in their own applications it makes sense, but for end users, it's hard not wonder whether this will be adopted.
SMI is offering its technology to existing DK2 owners right now. As of this writing, pricing information is not available, but packages for the company's eye-tracking glasses start at US$9,900. Of course, the Rift already includes all of the eye wear, so only the tracking technology is being added, thus it would make sense that price would be substantially lower.
The video below provides more information on SMI's eye-tracking technology in the Oculus Rift.
UPDATE (Nov. 24/14): SMI informs us that integration of its eye-tracking technology into the DK2 costs $14,850, and it requires the customer to send SMI their own device for retrofitting.
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