Ready, Stare, Fire! Tobii and SteelSeries Plan Eye Tracking for Games

This could be incredible. Or ruin everything.

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Imagine a first-person shooter where aiming at enemies is as simple as focusing on them with your eyes.

It could happen with the first eye controller for PC gaming, from SteelSeries and eye-tracking firm Tobii. The two companies plan to release the device later this year.

I wrote about the gaming possibilities of eye controls after interviewing Carl Korobkin, Tobii’s vice president of OEM solutions, last September.

He described a scenario where a Starcraft 2 player could open the game’s mini-map and quickly move between areas without dragging the mouse cursor.

“If you play Starcraft at all, it’s a lot of twitch factor,” Korobkin said. “So you’re navigating through the landscape with just machine-gun, rapid-fire decisions.”

Eye tracking could also enable new kinds of games. As an example, Korobkin talked about a detective-type game where you’re investigating a crime, and people at the scene will react differently based on how you make eye contact.

As for auto-aiming your way through a shooter, it’ll be up to game developers to actually support eye tracking (though it should work out of the box for system-level things like cursor movement). We can only hope that developers treat these controls with caution, and avoid creating an unfair advantage for certain users. Still, being able to blast a bad guy with laser vision could be great for, say, a Superman simulator.

Tobii’s tech has more practical applications as well. It could be faster than moving a mouse cursor around, and could allow for hands-free gestures such as scrolling down a page by focusing your eyes downward.

To that end, Tobii is releasing eye-tracking hardware for developers in March to allow for new kinds of applications, and it’s much cheaper than anything Tobii has released before. The EyeX developer unit (pictured above) costs $195 — five times cheaper than the company’s previous Rex developer unit. Tobii is also hoping for laptop integration later this year, with the ultimate goal of making it a standard feature like a webcam.

The technology has always impressed me in previous demos, and I should get a chance to try the EyeX next week during the CES trade show. SteelSeries will have more details on its eye tracking peripheral — including, presumably, the price — in the next several months, though it’ll look similar to the EyeX.