Unveiling the Power of Eye Tracking in the Latest VR Headsets

Written BY

Emily Friedman

July 17, 2023

Built-in eye tracking is standard in next-gen Virtual/Mixed Reality headsets (ex. Vive Pro Eye, Varjo XR-3, Meta Quest Pro, Apple Vision Pro), opening up a number of compelling applications that should be on your radar.

Training & Performance

Not only does eye tracking make for more immersive and realistic VR training experiences, it also enables gaze-based triggers and real-time performance feedback. When it comes to flight simulations, surgical training, and other complex, high-precision industrial training, the natural interaction (gaze as an input method) and headset performance improvements (foveated rendering) that are possible with eye tracking are key.

Consider the nuclear power industry and more specifically the control room of a nuclear power reactor: Training for this environment is difficult and physical simulators expensive, especially for emergency scenarios and radioactive areas of the plant. This is why Fortum, a Finnish energy company, built a dedicated Varjo headset-equipped space for control room operations training. In this scenario, trainees viewed virtual procedure manuals and control room displays, the movement of their eyes indicating whether they located the correct manual or panel switch in the VR simulation.

With attention tracking (including blinking, pupil dilation, and other eye movements) and additional biosensors (skin, sweat, heart rate, etc.), proficiency testing also becomes possible. Other possibilities include determining how alert and engaged a user is, how he or she performs under stress, and gaining insight into the user experience of a virtual simulation to improve it.

Consumer Research & Marketing

When bots and ad blockers make traditional advertising metrics like impressions and clicks unreliable, how do you measure the effectiveness of a marketing campaign? By tracking attention. Marketers use gaze and duration of view correlated with demographics and other information to determine success.

Consider product placement research, which traditionally involves online and in-store surveys, setting up mock stores, etc. VR can make research faster, cheaper, and possible on a larger scale, allowing researchers to test different scenarios and collect rich, unprompted data they might otherwise miss. The addition of eye tracking turns consumer behavior into quantitative objective data.

A great example comes from Accenture and Kellogg's: In this particular use case, VR was used to determine the placement of a new Kellogg's product on supermarket shelves. The combination of VR and eye tracking allowed the team to essentially look through shoppers' eyes as they perused and selected items from the shelves, and map their behavior to specific products. The results were surprising: It had long been accepted that eye-level placement is preferable in a supermarket and that consumers expect to find new products higher up on the shelves. But it turns out that placing a new product on a lower shelf directs shoppers' attention to surrounding products, which translated into an 18% increase in total sales for Kellogg's.

Other potential use cases include all kinds of user experience studies, large-scale A/B testing of store layouts and promotional displays, and even determining intent.

Social VR & Avatars

Finally, eye tracking enables nonverbal communication in virtual collaboration and meeting experiences.

An estimated 80% of human communication is not about what we say but rather what we don’t say: Facial expressions, body language, gestures, and eye contact indicate intent, confidence, and so much more. The lack of nonverbal cues in VR is one reason it's still preferable to meet in person or over Zoom as opposed to avatar-to-avatar in a virtual environment.

Eye and other body tracking permit more lifelike communication, expressions, emotions, and interactions in VR. This matters especially for avatars in the future metaverse: Meta's goal (and many share in this vision) is nothing short of true telepresence in a consumer headset. Eye tracking is key to enabling avatars to maintain direct eye contact and mirror other facial expressions.

Conclusion

Eye tracking in VR can take enterprise use cases to the next level and even produce the data needed to prove certain XR business cases. We’re learning that it’s not all about where you look but for how long and in what order, the associated behaviors you exhibit, and additional biometric data enabling richer insights into customers and employees alike. What additional applications are there and - food for thought - what are the privacy implications? Just how sensitive is someone's eye tracking data and to whom does it belong?

Further Reading
New Questions Arise from XR End Users on the Factory Floor
April 3, 2024
Factory workers' questions indicate growing interest and acceptance of XR in manufacturing and beyond.
Apple Vision Pro: Already a Hit in Healthcare and Retail
April 3, 2024