At long last, it appears that highly accurate eye tracking and gaze-based control are finally coming to the world of PC gaming in the form of a SteelSeries peripheral. Sniping a terrorist in Counter-Strike might soon be as simple as glancing at him, rather than trying to quickly and accurately move the mouse. The product doesn’t yet have a name, but it will resemble the Nintendo Wii sensor bar and probably sit below your desktop monitor. It should be priced at around $ 100, and will be released in mid-2014.
The eye-tracking controller is being developed by by the Swedish company Tobii, which has commercialized a number of eye-tracking peripherals over the last few years. Recently, Tobii was behind the eye-tracking technology in Hyundai’s HCD-14 concept car. So far, none of these devices have been targeted at gamers, though — instead, they’ve generally been expensive, non-consumer-oriented devices designed for for lab-based applications (gaze tracking is useful for beta testing user interfaces, among other things). Now, it seems, Tobii is ready to commercialize its tech by working with SteelSeries to launch “the world’s first mass-market consumer eye-tracking device for gamers.”
As far as we know, the SteelSeries eye-tracking peripheral will be based on Tobii’s EyeX, a long, slim, bar-shaped device that Tobii is scheduled to release in March. Inside the device there are two cameras and an infrared light source. The infrared light reflects off your pupil and cornea, which is then captured by the two camera sensors. Throw in a healthy serving of Tobii’s proprietary image processing algorithms, and a physiological 3D model of the eye, and you can work out the position of the eye and the direction of the gaze with high accuracy. Tobii doesn’t seem to put an exact figure on the resolution/accuracy, merely saying that “within less than a centimeter” is possible. For gaming, an on-screen resolution of around half a centimeter should be accurate enough. (Read: Eye tracking is the future of high-speed, maximum accuracy input.)
With the tech specs out of the way, the big question is: Is eye-tracking something that gamers actually want? Personally, I think it could be the biggest revolution in gaming since the joystick. It is very important to remember that there is currently very little communication bandwidth between a computer and a gamer. For the most part, all you have is your hands, and sometimes you can also use your voice. Compare this to real life, where you have your hands, legs, head, eyes, and numerous other limbs and joints that can all be manipulated in unison. Because a game’s interface generally has to be boiled down to what you can easily do with a couple of fingers, games tend to be very simple — and when they do implement complex maneuvers, like glancing or head weaving, your fingers often find themselves doing some very odd contortions.
Your eyes are a huge and rich source of information that could take a lot of strain off your hands. Imagine if you use your eyes to glance to the right, while using your mouse to organize your inventory. Imagine if a role-playing game could detect when your eyes flicker towards the buxom waitress (or androgynous alien, if you lean that way). Imagine if you were playing a driving game, with a steering wheel controller, and could glance with your eyes to look out the window. (See: Shoulder buttons of giants: The evolution of controllers leading up to PS4 and Xbox One.)
Developers can order the EyeX dev kit today for $ 95, for delivery in March. There’s no word on how much the consumer-oriented SteelSeries device will cost when it arrives (sometime in “mid 2014″), but we’d be surprised if it was over $ 100.