Eye-tracking headset opens new worlds for disabled gamers

An eye-tracking virtual reality headset lets users interact with the environment just by looking at it. FOVE says its technology could not only revolutionise the gaming industry but have applications to help people with various disabilities interact with their surroundings.

TOKYO, JAPAN (HANDOUT) – An advanced virtual reality headset could be a game-changer for the entertainment industry and give people with certain disabilities new powers of communication and interaction, according to the developers. The FOVE headset uses eye-tracking technology to give the wearer an immersive and completely hands-free virtual reality, where all of their actions can be controlled by their eye movements.

To demonstrate the versatility of their device, an early proof-of-concept prototype was developed alongside the University of Tsukuba’s Special Needs Education School for the Physically Challenged in Japan. Together they created the ‘Universal Piano’ where the user’s eye movements trigger a note on a piano. The standard piano keyboard was rearranged for an interface that can be played by sight; with an accurate and rich musical performance possible through combined application of the mono-tone mode and chord mode.

The FOVE headset is now attracting investors on its crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter which started in May. The company reached its Kickstarter goal of US $250,000 in just three days, and has now gained the support of Samsung Ventures.

Eye-tracking cameras installed inside the headset, along with an accelerometer that senses head movement, allow the user to view the environment in 360-degrees while controlling virtual interaction with their eyes.

The developers hope their headsets will open new worlds for many people, especially those who struggle with the use of their limbs.

“I think people with disabilities often face the struggle of not being able to express themselves fully, or enjoy the things they like without the help of somebody else. But with the head-mount display a person can independently control the headset with his or her eyes. This encourages self-expression, and it also helps the person create his or her own world within the luxury of solitude,” said Chief Executive Office Yuka Kojima.

FOVE’s co-developer and chief technology officer Lochlainn Wilson says their unique technology offers an immersive experience like no other.

“We have this eye tracking technology which makes it very interesting. So we can implement science-fiction style game ideas. For example, you can become a cyborg, you can look at something in the game and it can be highlighted, information appears, you can do a scan, for example. You can close one eye and zoom in with the other. You can have horror game that things looking at you and you look at them and it disappears, and you are like ‘what was that’? It’s like we can really play with experience and perception in the completely new ways using our technology,” Wilson said.

At a public demonstration of the gaming abilities of the headset in Tokyo, visitors were amazed at the experience.

“There definitely was a strong sense of involvement, or really being present inside the game. Also, I initially thought the game only required eye-movements, but when I moved my head, the screen moved with me which was incredibly mind-blowing,” said Hodaka Moriyama, a visitor at the demonstration event.

The company which began as a project of Tokyo University last year, is the brainchild of Kojima, a former Sony Computer Entertainment staff, and Wilson, an Australian whose expertise is in software and hardware design.

FOVE’s Kickstarter campaign closed on July 4 and the company hopes to release early units to software developers by spring next year.