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Crowdsourcing Innovation: Yuka Kojima, FOVE

Crowdfunding sites are offering a new path for inventors with original ideas. We talk to inventors looking to gain the public’s favour...

pljhoksxpmlyo5e7jp8vszy5kveljf68nvj2p5o4tam Name:  Yuka Kojima

 Job title: CEO and Co-founder

 Organisation: FOVE

 Location: San Francisco, CA

 

Product: FOVE: The World's First Eye Tracking Virtual Reality Headset

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What it does & how it works:

FOVE is a virtual reality (VR) head mounted display (HMD) with the added benefit of eye tracking.

FOVE enables eye-tracking by incorporating custom small form-factor infrared sensors inside the headset. These sensors bounce light off the retina to register how the eyes are angled. Our unique algorithms can calculate the parallax between the eyes to track and measure depth-of-field focus.

What makes it special?

The addition of eye tracking, allows for a human connection in a virtual world. Characters within games will know they are being watched, and meaningful eye contact can be made.

Using this technology also allows us to focus processing power through the use of a technique called foveated rendering. Full VR experiences could be powered from small processors like those found in smartphones.

Aside from gaming FOVE also has applications in fine point menu control, education and with those with disabilities. Eye Play the Piano is a collaborative project between the University of Tsukuba’s Special Needs Education School for the Physically Challenged and FOVE. FOVE recognizes eye movement and blinks to trigger the selected chord, which is then conveyed to the piano.

What’s your background, and what inspired you to come up with the idea?

My background is with Sony Japan where I was working on an unreleased PS Vita project, when the idea of using eye tracking in games occurred to me.  FOVE was born from a discussion with Lochlainn, my co-founder regarding how to best realise this kind of interaction in modern games.

Why Kickstarter?

Kickstarter gives us a fantastic opportunity to build a community around FOVE, we want to create a group of people who share our passion for eye tracking. It’s also a fantastic community of developers who we want to speak with and hopefully get them thinking about eye tracking in their games.

Is Crowdfunding good for innovation? How so?

Crowdfunding gives people with a great idea a platform to speak with like-minded people. There have been some amazing success stories that just wouldn’t have happened without crowdfunding.

Reactions on KS so far?

Overwhelmingly positive so far, we’ve had some great suggestions from backers on stretch goals too, which we are currently looking into.

What have you learned from your campaign?

It means a lot for us to actually see the demand from the market. A lot of people have supported us, and we now feel rather strongly that eye-tracking is something necessary in VR. Also we received a lot of requests about additional controlling technology combined with eye-tracking. We are positively thinking about it and please wait for updates.

When is the product due to ship?

FOVE headsets will be shipping in May 2016

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What does eye-tracking add to the VR experience, and could it be potentially be used in other wearable tech [e.g. Google Glass or Microsoft HoloLens-like devices] in the future?

First of all, eye-tracking solves parallax error problems, which occur when using mouse or 2D controllers in a 3D dimension. It enables very quick, accurate control, which you will never have experienced before.

Second, since you don’t have to depend on head-tracking for cursor control or view point movement, head movement is reduced. By physically reducing the amount of head movement, FOVE can reduce motion sickness and nausea, which is a very big problem in VR.

Finally, eye-tracking enables new technology, called foveated rendering. Since FOVE knows exactly where users are looking, we can focus a system’s rendering power to only where it’s needed while reducing the power for the area unfocused. As a result, the system will require only 1/6 of original rendering power. With this technology, people will be able to enjoy VR with small laptops or even smartphones in the future.

Yes, we are also thinking about licensing out our technology, including to the AR area. Our vision is to make eye-tracking the standard of VR/AR.

Many VR headsets are known to cause slight nausea, does eye tracking help reduce this?

Simulation sickness is mostly attributed to the lack of focus when staring into a virtual world. Our eyes are not accustomed to seeing flat images. With eye tracking a scene can shift focus in front of your eyes giving a much more realistic experience and reducing nausea.

How do you compete with the likes of Sony and Oculus, and could they implement eye-tracking technology in the future?

We don’t really see them as competitors. At this point, the VR market is too young. What we really need to do is to prove the possibility and use case of VR to users.

Plus, while we believe eye-tracking will be the standard VR UI, at this point, eye-tracking is more for hard-core gamers, who want more accurate, quick control. This fact makes our target different from the ones of Oculus and Sony.

Outside of gaming, what industries do you think VR will have the most potential uses?

With eye tracking, there are endless possibilities for control uses. Whether that is helping the disabled to type or play the piano, or a surgeon being able to focus on different areas as he remotely undertakes an operation.

Aims for the future?

For future versions, we want to add facial recognition technology. By combining this with eye-tracking, we can fully translate our emotional expression to avatars in the virtual world.

Another keyword for us these days is, of course, mobile. As the market grows, and potential users needs reveal themselves, we will update our technology accordingly.



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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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