Thu | Aug 24, 2017

Start-up makes virtual reality intuitive with eye-tracking

Published:Friday | March 18, 2016 | 3:00 AM
In this March 7, 2016 photo, Fove's staff wearing an eye-tracking headset goggles demonstrates virtual reality at his office in Tokyo.

streaming of sports. It has myriad potential business applications, such as giving apartment hunters a virtual look at real estate options and car buyers tours of virtual showrooms.

It could also prove useful for training of pilots and surgeons, and has already been adopted by the military. The make-believe experience could aid in so-called 'empathy training' for police and other service providers. Pornography is another potentially lucrative application.

A recent report by New York-based Superdata, which analyses data on games, said smaller companies could become "first-movers," as established players keep a cautious wait-and-see attitude.

Rahat Ahmed, co-founder and chief of strategy at New York-based Trinity VR, an investor in technology and emerging markets, says the big plus of VR is "intuitive interaction".

Augmented reality enables users to see three-dimensional objects in the real world, while VR delivers a 360-degree fictional universe.

"Every major company has to have a VR-AR strategy," Ahmed said recently at the CLSA Japan Forum in Tokyo. It allows connecting going fishing with your father who is far away."

New technology usually has its share of detractors, and there are worries that VR could have harmful effects if users become too immersed in their fantasy environments and estranged from reality.

But Fove developers say VR can play a positive role.

In one poignant demonstration, a bedridden grandmother wears a Fove headset to 'attend' her grandson's wedding, sending a human-shaped robot controlled by her eyes in her place. The woman gestures happily, reaching out from her bed as if the newly-weds are standing before her.

Eye-tracking can enable disabled people to use their eyes to control devices, says Kojima's co-founder at Fove, Australian Lochlainn Wilson. He developed Fove's breakthrough technology for eye-tracking.

With the help of Fove and a Japanese university, for example, a young man with spinal muscular atrophy, an illness that has weakened his arms and fingers, used eye movements to play a piano.

"We want to do things with VR that people haven't thought about, or have thought to be impossible," said Wilson, who met Kojima while she was studying English for four months in Australia. "And we have got other secret projects in the future."

Fove has potential rivals, such as electronics and entertainment company Sony Corp and Facebook's Oculus, which later this month will begin shipping the consumer version of its Rift virtual-reality headset for $600, plus $1,500 for an "Oculus-ready" PC.

Oculus says it is working on eye-tracking for its headsets, and other players like Eyefluence Inc, based in Milpitas, California, have also developed the technology.