This short but ingenious video snippet from eye-tracking specialists Tobii was built to tease a social VR demo they’ve been working on for GDC next week. It aptly highlights the subtle yet striking enhancements that eye tracking may being to social VR applications.

We wrote just today that eye-tracking used inside virtual reality headsets, used to detect the gaze of the user, could play an extremely important part in making more realistic VR scenes at higher resolutions possible through the use of foveated rendering, but eye-tracking has important implications for a more human aspect of virtual reality.

Social VR has already proven itself as a potent example of the power that VR presence-inducing capabilities bring to online social interaction. Facebook recently showcased an impressive demonstration of how effective chatting with other humans inside a virtual space can be and how important that might be in the social media giant’s future offerings. However, despite the clever approximations of avatar mouth movement and hand gestures captured with Oculus Touch motion controllers, the dead eyes of the participants digital doppelgangers left something to be desired.

Swedish company Tobii, who has specialised in eye tracking since its inception in 2001, have produced hardware for gaze detection hardware in various guises for some time now, and has recently announced plans to bring its tech to virtual reality, via a $50M funding round.

What you see (embedded above) is the company’s brief but intriguing video, built for posting to the HTC Vive subreddit /r/vive, to tease a new demo the company seem to be planning to show at next weeks Game Developer Conference in San Francisco. The demo is of a virtual avatar, standing in front of two virtual mirrors, demonstrating how much more relatable the character shown in the right hand mirror (showing eye tracking enabled) than the left (sans eye tracking). This, combined with emulated mouth movements alongside head tracking and hand motions via VR controllers, really will elevate the social VR experience.

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Based in the UK, Paul has been immersed in interactive entertainment for the best part of 27 years and has followed advances in gaming with a passionate fervour. His obsession with graphical fidelity over the years has had him branded a ‘graphics whore’ (which he views as the highest compliment) more than once and he holds a particular candle for the dream of the ultimate immersive gaming experience. Having followed and been disappointed by the original VR explosion of the 90s, he then founded to follow the new and exciting prospect of the rebirth of VR in products like the Oculus Rift. Paul joined forces with Ben to help build the new Road to VR in preparation for what he sees as VR’s coming of age over the next few years.
  • Firestorm185

    Looks pretty impressive! Can’t wait to see videos about this one!

  • Sam Illingworth

    Does that video play for anyone? Not working on my iPad.

    • kontis

      Doesn’t play in Safari, but works in Firefox.

      • Sam Illingworth

        That’s weird – don’t they all use the same rendering engine? I thought Firefox and Chrome just included iOS’ web view object.

    • user

      no problem in chrome

    • Benjamin Orlowski

      It’s on Reddit/vive as well try there.

  • Get Schwifty!

    Love the eye blink at the end… next laptop (VR rated thankfully) will incorporate Tobii eye tracking software as well which detects your presence for changing power profile of the system etc.

    • Foreign Devil

      wouldn’t a simple motion detection chip do the same job on that laptop? Darken the screen when no user motion is detected?

      • Get Schwifty!

        Probably so, but for whatever reason it’s tied to Tobii… perhaps they figure that is more accurate than just simple motion detection.

      • Dynastius

        Can you limit motion detection to just a few feet in front of the laptop? I thought motion detection was line of sight based so that would mean it was being triggered anytime someone would just walk past the laptop if they used that method. I’m not sure if I’m right about it being line of sight…but all the motion detectors I’ve seen work that way.

        • Foreign Devil

          my microsoft surface has facial recognition. . that ought to do the job too. Could easily differentiate between a face and a cat walking by. Also useful for easy, secure user login. Maybe the Tobii chip can do retinal scan? Would need super high rez cam to do that from a distance though.

    • mcnbns

      I’m still waiting for camera tech on computers and phones to get good enough for authentication via rectal scanning.

      • EY

        I sure hope you meant retinal scanning. Then again, maybe that’s an apropos reply to someone with a Rick and Morty profile pic …

        • mcnbns

          And we all know this tech is going to have crossover benefits in the growing field of teledildonics (where the competition is already pretty stiff).

          • Get Schwifty!

            Ouch… literally…

        • Get Schwifty!


  • The video is really well crafted… apart from the actual tech, they did a great marketing job!

  • mbze430


  • OgreTactics

    We underestimate the importance of human expression and interaction (voice, face, eyes, hands) in VR too much.

    • Konchu

      Doesn’t feel fair to say that some of my best VR experiences have involved voice altspace/vrchat etc. People have been clamoring for more tracking of hands aforementioned AltSpace is pretty cool to use the LeapMotion and how many gloves have we had in development not to mention the Vive controllers and more so the Touch controllers help simulate hand movement. Eye tracking has been a pretty big focus too we have several companies pursuing it with a headset release recently. I have only see one thing though that had a camera below the helmet for other facial tracking so it is a little under represented.

      Now I will agree even if we perfect these thing we should not understate the importance of real human interactions. But it is awesome how we can become better more aware connect global citizens in VR.

      • OgreTactics

        I’m actually pretty sure that only voice suffice to simulate caricatured mouth/lip mouvements, while the smartphone camera should be sufficient to track eye movement (not focus) in altspace for exemple.

        But obviously we should count on money scrapping VR companies given how greedy engineer-wasting they have been since 2016.