Non-verbal queues are critical to communication and the feeling of being together in AltspaceVR, and we continue to look for ways to make interaction even more natural. So we partnered with SensoMotoric Instruments (SMI), a world leader in eye tracking technology, to see how we might enhance the eyes of our avatars. The result, which we showed at AWE 2015, drew overwhelmingly positive responses from participants, and won best new feature of the show.
The demo included two different functions: a reflection of your actual eye position on the avatar, a first in VR, intended to provide more natural interaction with others; and the ability for users to activate the interface and navigate the 3D environment using their eyes.
Participants were surprised and delighted to approach a mirror in AltspaceVR and see themselves with avatar eyes that moved to match the movements of their eyes as they looked around or blinked.
They made faces at each other and feigned emotions that were quickly and easily recognized: surprise, anger, shyness, and others. The implementation was relatively basic, but added significant expressive versatility and assisted in non-verbal communication. And, of course, it was great fun!
The other feature of this demo allowed participants to use their eyes to activate the interface. Look at a spot in AltspaceVR, click, and you transport there. Look at your personal display, click, and you start to browse. Choose a YouTube selection with your eyes and click.
Users quickly mastered and enjoyed this functionality. With proper calibration and UI design, using your eyes could be faster and feel more natural than does the standard keyboard, mouse or even a nunchuck-style controller.
What’s next for eye tracking in AltspaceVR? The AWE2015 demo was a relatively simple one. To optimize eye tracking will require additional UI research and development, with special consideration of text size, icons, conventions, resolution and other aspects of design. Also, AltspaceVR has 3D apps and other functionality that have not yet been adapted for eye tracking.
Overall, we think the future of VR and eye tracking working together looks bright. SMI makes a rock solid eye tracker and is currently developing their technology for VR, and the reaction to our demo at AWE2015 helps to confirm the potential.
Eye tracking, according to AltspaceVR founder and CEO Eric Romo, “could transform the way we interact in VR and with computers in general. By tracking eye movement and then reflecting that on your avatar, you can truly make eye contact in a virtual space for the first time from thousands of miles away.”
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