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Eye Tracking and the Future of VR

Eye tracking much like VR has existed in various iterations for quite some time but with advances in hardware and computer vision is finally starting to reach a consumer-ready standard. For VR, this could be one of the most important steps towards the future.

Virtual reality, despite growing popularity, is often mired in complex set-up and the need for powerful gaming PCs to deliver the optimal experience. Samsung and Google have both dipped their toes into mobile VR; converting a smart phone into a processing unit with mixed results. Regardless of the effective experience delivered I believe mobile VR units are the future of the medium and it might be here sooner than you think. 

Qualcomms all-in-one headset follows rumblings all across the industry from HTCs Vive Focus to Oculus' Go units all-in-one mobile headsets with inside out tracking are preparing to hit consumer markets with lower price points. But why do so many of them have eye-tracking?

As a whole eye-tracking is still a foreign concept to plenty of developers, and you'd be forgiven for thinking it's just a replacement input system to avoid using external controllers. The truth is the value of eye-tracking is has nothing to do with input, and everything to do with analytics. By tracking a users eyes you can gain valuable insights into how they interact with your application or game by watching what they look at and how they absorb the information you present them. When you step this into real-time something wonderful happens. 

Any virtual reality developer will tell you one of the biggest hurdles for virtual reality is performance. You're drawing on two screens at once and you need to draw 1.5x faster (90FPS for VR experiences vs 60FPS for PC or mobile experiences) to stop your users feeling sick. But what if you know exactly what your user is paying attention to? A new contender enters stage left; Foveated Rendering.

Foveated Rendering is a new rendering technique that uses the information provided by eye-tracking to alter the quality of a VR experience around the center of your vision. A human eye only detects significant details in a tiny area in the centre of our vision where the light hits a part of the eye called the fovea and this is where foveated rendering focuses. By dialling up the image quality at the centre of your vision where you see the most detail and reducing the quality in your peripherals where you see mostly colour and movement VR headsets with eye-tracking can deliver significant increases in quality without becoming mired in performance issues.

Qualcomm is launching a development kit based on its Snapdragon 845 VR platform in the second quarter of this year. The self-contained headset and software development kit will showcase key elements of Qualcomm’s mobile chip-based VR system, including full inside-out motion tracking and a partnership with eye-tracking company Tobii. It will also support HTC’s Vive Wave platform, which is designed to let VR developers build and sell software across multiple brands of headsets.

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