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How Eye-Tracking Improves Virtual Experiences

The evolution of technology is a fascinating subject that provides a roadmap of how devices have changed to meet ever-stringent desires and needs. Within what has actually been a very small window of time, displays have moved from ‘dumb’ and low-resolution CRT’s to LCD and LED screens, which power our modern-day devices. These screens are robust and able to utilise millions of individual colours for a more in-depth experience and the addition of an invisible layer of indium tin oxide makes a screen of this nature touch sensitive. 

Touch-sensitivity is a useful feature in terms of using micro-electronic devices, but as technology has further evolved, modern VR/AR devices are enclosed and use headset devices. Touchscreens are of no use here, and developers have turned to the use of handset controllers. But these aren’t appropriate in all situations and technology has not stood still in the pursuit of delivering the best possible experience. 

This brings us to eye-tracking technology, and the ability to operate devices by eye movements. Eye-tracking isn’t new, but has been perfected over the last few years and is now a perfect way of interfacing with technology. New and exciting insights into the wearer’s actions and thoughts are made possible by near-eye displays. Although eye tracking provides additional input modes and display enhancements, at the moment, the application of XR analytics such as eye tracking is mostly limited to corporate use cases such as education and evaluation.

But eye-tracking can also be a part of a feedback loop, and analysis of eye movements is becoming a powerful tool in analytics. It is frequently raised in the context of foveated rendering that eye-tracking software and the capacity to swiftly and precisely measure the direction of a user’s staring while inside a VR headset, could lessen the performance needs of XR headsets. 

Foveated rendering is an interesting application of eye-tracking in augmented and virtual reality headsets, but this technology has the potential to offer much more. This is an up-and-coming gaming approach that uses an eye tracker included into a virtual reality headset to drastically lower the quality of the rendered image outside of the foveal viewing area. This manner, only the visible portion of a display needs to be produced at full resolution. But by allowing for foveated rendering, headsets also enable analytics.

Foveated systems within headsets are still under development since fields of view (FoV) in current systems are generally not large enough to benefit from it. But the technology appears to work well and reliable systems are likely to hit the market fairly soon, but understanding the implications of these is being increasingly seen as important. Once the FoV issue is resolved, then foveated rendering will follow quickly.

Tech companies such as cognitive3d have realised the potential in gathering this data and using it to enhance the user-experience. This is being done for two main reasons: it can be used to enhance the experience in future games and applications, and it can be studied to determine the effects of eye tracking on users. Plainly, some people have experienced sickness while using XR systems and developers are keen to understand why this may be. Is it something in the content being viewed or is it an inherent problem with how the content is being delivered?

Foveated issues aside, the next generation of headsets – systems such as the Apple Vision Pro and Meta Quest 3 – have much more to do with eye tracking and this is likely to be a goal of every headset manufacturer as they compete in a valuable market. And it is that very value that makes the understanding of the eye-tracking technology all the more important.

Of course, the collection of any kind of data like this requires the goodwill of the users to ensure that the data is not tainted, and so it becomes important for the developers to declare that they are collecting data and to state the reasons why. Bad data is worse than no data and it is essential that the information obtained is as realistic and as detailed as possible.

XR analytics are essential for making sure new features are useful to end users. They enhance the quality of our everyday lives and the things we love and rely on in the material world. Not to mention the usefulness of the necessary hardware in consumer programmes. Although technology like eye tracking has the potential to be terrifying if used carelessly, things are looking promising.