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Intelligent Machines

CES 2014: Eye-Tracking Game Controller for PCs Launching This Summer

Accessory promises gamers more realistic interactions with virtual characters.

Eye-tracking is currently a niche technology, but gaming could bring it to the masses.

A new game controller announced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) Sunday could let PC gamers control the action with their eyes. The device, which is slated for release this summer, will likely mark the debut of eye tracking for a video-gaming product. Similar technology is typically used for psychological research or user experience testing.

EyeX
Watching you: Tobii Technology is working on a sleek device similar to the EyeX (above) to bring eye-gaze control to PC gaming.

The forthcoming device will be made by Tobii Technology, a Swedish company that develops eye-tracking technology, and SteelSeries, which makes gaming peripherals such as mice, keyboards, and conventional gamepad controllers. The companies claim that eye-tracking controllers could reinvigorate the experience of gaming, as did motion controllers.

The name and design of the device being launched this summer has not yet been released, but Tobii’s executive vice president of assistive technology, Oscar Werner, told MIT Technology Review that it would likely look similar to the slim, stick-like EyeX, Tobii’s latest eye-tracking sensor for PCs.

That sensor, which is mounted below a PC’s monitor, uses a single camera and three infrared lights to track a person’s eyes. The camera looks for the reflections of the lights off of a person’s pupils to determine the direction of his gaze. A short calibration exercise done the first time someone uses the device determines which gaze corresponds to which onscreen positions.

The EyeX controller was demonstrated with the popular games World of Warcraft and Starcraft at a CES press preview event Sunday. During the demonstration, avatars were guided by gaze and players changed their on-screen weaponry simply by looking at a listed option. To achieve those results, the eye tracker emulated a conventional computer mouse. When the controller launches this summer, it will have this kind of basic support for approximately 100 games.

Werner says more sophisticated applications will be possible if games are programmed with the forthcoming controller in mind. Werner acknowledges, however, that it is unclear how many game developers will embrace the technology,

“It enables more immersive interactions, and games can become a lot more like the real world,” he says. He envisions “an opponent that is able to block attacks based on where you are looking, or characters that look at you or speak to you when you look at them.”

The developer’s kit will ship in March 2014 for $95.

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