Eye Tracking, Foveated Rendering, and SensoMotoric
Eye tracking is the ability to monitor the movement of the human eye in real-time. Your eyes are a fascinating piece of work and are the second most complex organs after the brain to which they connect to using over 1 million nerve fibers each. 80% of what you learn is captured through your eyes along with 80% of the memories your brain stores. Here’s something you may have never thought of which we think is simply fascinating. Try this exercise out. Below is a picture of your common everyday lionhead rabbit. Stare at the rabbit directly in his eyes and at the same time, try to continue reading the article while keeping your eyes focused on said rabbit’s eyes:
Everyone’s vision is different but we were unable to read one word of this text which is at most 2 inches away from the rabbit’s eyes. Is our vision really that bad that we can’t see anything legibly more than an inch or so away from what we are focusing on in any direction? That’s not a defect in our vision but rather something we call “foveated rendering”. This term refers to the remarkable fact that while our field of vision is, say 180 degrees in front of us, we only see a small portion of that in high resolution. It’s fascinating to think about that in the context of virtual reality or augmented reality simulations. This means that if you are projecting a virtual world to someone, you only have to show it in high resolution where their eyeballs are focused. The question is, how can you tell where someone is looking? There’s a company called SensoMotoric that specializes just in eye-tracking technology.
Founded in 1991, privately held German company SensoMotoric Instruments (SMI) has been developing eye & gaze tracking systems for the last 20 years which have been used by more than 5 million users under the broadest range of conditions. Their latest eye tracking platform is the Oculus Rift DK2 eye tracking upgrade which is a gold standard for virtual reality head-mounted displays. SMI now has over 6,000 systems installed worldwide and is working with some of the world’s leading brands as seen in the below picture:
Eye movements are also referred to as saccades and they are one of the fastest movements in the human body. In order to capture these saccades, the SMI eye-tracking technology needs to work very quickly.
There are a large number of applications for eye tracking in addition to virtual reality. SMI makes a set of eyeglasses that anyone can use to track eye movements, with these devices being used for all kinds of market research. In sports such as flying or golf, analyzing the movement of the eyes can help see where you are looking at times where the focus of your gaze is critical. Ever play golf or baseball and have a coach or instructor tell you to “keep your eye on the ball”? In sports involving aircraft, for example, it is important to evaluate fixation duration on cockpit instruments as opposed to the time spent looking outside the plane. In ball sports, on the other hand, research is concentrating on whether professionals focus more on the ball itself or on the target area. In addition to sports, the obvious use is in the medical field which uses eye-tracking in applications such as psychology or ophthalmology.
SMI is an industry leader in the growing field of eye-tracking and it only makes sense that we’ll see their technology implemented into more and more VR and AR hardware. You can save an immense amount of computing resources by only having to render a fraction of a scene at a time in high definition. To do so properly though, you need eye-tracking technology that can move at a speed that makes those transitions unnoticeable to the human eye. It’s that sort of remarkable technology that SMI is making possible.