The way we interact VR has remained fairly static, even with the huge amount of development dollars being put into the technology now. Most gear uses simple hand-held peripheral devices to convey information to the display, usually in the form of a wand or stick. But VR developers are constantly searching for new and better ways for people to interface with virtual reality environments. Some alternatives to peripherals are being researched, including this nifty set of gloves that might help you “feel” objects in the virtual space.
One way developers are looking to push the envelope and advance virtual reality is through the use of eye tracking technology. And the biggest name in eye tracking right now is FOVE VR, who is making waves with their hotly anticipated VR Headset.
The Next Big Thing – Eye Tracking
Eye tracking technology is the next big thing in VR, and companies from Oculus to Google are sitting up and taking notice. There are many companies who have released adaptations of already existing technology, or are researching and developing their own stand alone eye-tracking headgear, but so far only one has delivered with a viable, functioning eye-tracking VR hardware peripheral.
What is FOVE VR?
FOVE is a company synonymous with eye-tracking. The company name comes from the acronym FOV, or “field of view”, which describes the area visible to the human eye at any given time. FOV is also the acronym behind the term “foveated rendering”, a type of processor-saving visual display made possible by eye-tracking technology.
The Tokyo-based startup was announced in 2014 under the guidance of Yuka Kojima and Lochlainn Wilson, the CEO and CTO respectively. The pair wasted no time in creating a Kickstarter campaign to fund the development of the FOVE headset, with the intention of making it the first all-included eye-tracking VR gear on the market. The campaign “kicked” off in May of 2015 with an initial goal of $250,000. The goal was reached in a mere 5 days, and was then surpassed, finishing at nearly double the initial goal; the campaign garnered $480,650 dollars in donations, and promised each of the $349+ donors their own FOVE headset by May of 2016.
FOVE VR Headset Specs
Although the company was unable to meet this timeline ultimately, as of November of 2016, the FOVE headset was available for preorder through the FOVE website for $599. The FOVE VR specs are fairly impressive; the headset boasts a 2560×1440 display, larger than any other VR gear currently on the market.
The FOV for the FOVE, or how much of the user’s’ vision the display takes up, promises to be equally impressive at 100 degrees (to compare, most other brands on the market have a 90 degree or less field of view). The gear is compatible with several existing game engine plugins, including Unity and Unreal, and is also compatible out of the box with 250+ VR enabled titles on Steam. The FOVE VR release date is projected as January of 2016.
The Implications of Foveated Rendering
Eye tracking is a pretty cool technology, and the tricks that can be pulled using it in games and other simulations are amazing to consider. But eye tracking has the potential to be more than simply a flashy new aspect of VR. One of the largest hurdles that VR developers have been trying to overcome are the sometimes rigorous physical strains that using VR can put on the human body.
VR users have complained of everything from nausea, vertigo, and dizziness, both while using the gear and for a short time after removing it, to more worrying and serious side effects like impaired spatial reasoning, mild to serious headaches, and even dissociation and feelings of unreality or panic. The idea of feeling like you’re stuck in a simulation you can’t get out of is cause for concern for some users, and rightly so. These possible side effects, although uncommon, have somewhat muted the migration of users to VR tech, and a real solution has yet to be found, although researchers are hard at work.
FOVE to the Rescue
There’s one technology currently available that researchers have found to reliably reduce negative side effects of VR tech, and you guessed it, it’s eye tracking. With eye tracking, software can more smoothly and accurately render the environments being displayed, to reduce the disconnect and dysphoria that the brain can suffer when using VR tech. Also, users of eye tracking VR tech like the FOVE headset would need to make fewer head movements to perceive their virtual environments which could lead to a further reduction in physical side effects such as nausea or dizziness.
All in all, eye tracking is a huge step forward for VR technology, and FOVE and their headset are at the head of the pack. FOVE VR tracking has the potential to further revolutionize an already revolutionary industry, and though they’ve had a few delays in bringing the technology to the public, it’s promise tells us that it may well be well worth the wait.