It has been an odd and yet remarkable year in many ways. I’ve been using VR at work more than ever, which is a lot of fun, and some fantastic new headsets have come onto the market.
In this post, I talk about VR evolution. How hardware, sensor technology, and data capabilities have now reached an inflection point, delivering today’s VR platforms that are powerful, sensor-driven, and priced for scalability. And why we developed Tobii Ocumen, an enabler for enterprises, overcoming scalability challenges in VR, shifting development projects out of the lab and into the market.
The rising demand for sensors in things and devices is rooted in the need for data. Sensors are valuable not just because they provide new inputs on which great applications can be built but also because they automatically generate data in a non-intrusive way. Sensor data is unbiased and objective, making it perfect for independent measurement (such as capturing human behavior) and generating insights that can be used in decision making and as inputs for applications in health assessment, therapeutics, and many other domains.
To ensure that our eye tracking technology continues to meet the growing demand from VR-applications for specialized insights, we developed Tobii Ocumen — an eye tracking solution that delivers advanced data streams and filters in real time.
It’s fairly common to create new tech by building, tweaking, and cobbling bits of hardware together in a lab. But shifting gears from innovation to commercialization, moving from prototype to a sellable solution is far from straightforward. Enterprises making this shift often follow the same path. They start with research and progress through start-up and expansion before reaching mass market. Naturally, not every idea makes it, and indeed, mass market is not always the objective. Unfortunately, many innovations fail somewhere along the way. Some due to cost, some to timing, and sometimes lack of awareness is the culprit. But it seems that overcoming scalability is often the most significant obstacle.
Over the past couple of years, VR capability has risen dramatically. With each new headset comes extra computational power, improved visual experiences, more sensors, and better 3D engine support. At the same time, prices have been falling and standardization maturing — resulting in increased affordability and more widespread adoption.
Likewise, sensor technologies such as eye tracking have become smaller, standardized, and more powerful. As a result, they have begun to appear in commercial devices. For Tobii, MSI was first-to-market with an eye tracking enabled laptop back in 2016. And the launch of VIVE Pro Eye in 2019 made HTC the first major headset vendor to include eye tracking technology, followed by Pico and HP.
I think we’ve now reached a crucial inflection point where all the elements — capable hardware, real-time data aggregation software, connectivity, cloud storage, and advanced sensor data — are powerful enough to commercialize VR innovation. The Pico Neo VR headset, in particular, is a game-changer owing to its powerful capabilities and its mobility factor. And because it supports Tobii Ocumen, it will help developers shift projects out of the lab, scale, and put solutions into the hands of customers.
I’ve been following SyncThink — an innovative solution designer based in the US — for a couple of years now. This company has leveraged research into visual synchronization impairments carried out by Stanford University and the Brain Trauma Foundation. They found a way to relate eye movement with health issues such as concussion, sleep deprivation, neurodegenerative diseases, and other conditions like ADHD.
When it comes to traumatic brain injuries, clinicians traditionally use the follow-my-finger test to detect deviations in a patient’s ocular movements — a test that requires skill and experience. Eye tracking makes it possible to detect small eye-movement aberrations and collect data to help clinicians make informed decisions. Putting such a test into a controlled VR environment makes the solution mobile and suitable for use in a wide range of settings.
Over the years, SyncThink has developed various prototypes, resulting in EYE-SYNC® — a bespoke, mobile VR oculomotor assessment tool that clinicians can take to the sidelines or use in their practice.
The controlled environment of VR lends itself to assessment testing in noisy, crowded environments such as the sidelines of a football field or the edge of the rink — places where traumatic brain injuries occur, but where skilled clinicians are not always present.
Imagine being able to equip Little League coaches with VR solutions that require no specialized training but can provide useful indications about the trauma state of a player.
Scaling innovation to such a level, however, hasn’t been feasible until now. Today, the final pieces of the puzzle are in place — devices like the Pico Neo VR headset and advanced eye tracking solutions such as Tobii Ocumen — providing a powerful platform to run innovation, scale, and make the move to commercialization.
Tobii Ocumen delivers advanced data streams that can be used in applications related to visual and cognitive impairments such as brain trauma, amblyopia (lazy eye), autism, and Parkinson’s disease, as well as training and simulation. To find out more about Tobii Ocumen and how it powers advanced VR applications, and Developer Zone.