January 3, 2017: On the eve of CES 2017, SensoMotoric Instruments (SMI) introduces the SMI Social Eye – a concept powered by SMI eye tracking which enables true human connection between avatars in virtual worlds through expressive, accurate eye contact.
In any face-to-face situation, non-verbal communication is believed to account for around half of all communication between participants – and eye contact is the largest single component of that. It is of particular importance in VR, where social interaction is not direct but mediated through avatars. The SMI Social Eye provides a breakthrough solution by accurately tracking the gaze of the wearer of the VR HMD (head mounted display) and animating the eyes of the avatar in real time. Virtual characters can gaze, blink, wink and show pupillary reactions to acknowledge others, express their feelings or simply make a point.
“Looking someone directly in the eye is a powerful human experience. It portrays values and emotions including trust, honesty and courtesy or scepticism – depending on the cultural and social context,” said SMI’s Director of OEM Solutions Business Christian Villwock. “The SMI Social Eye helps developers, creative artists and users to express all these values and more in an appropriate way. It is the difference between avatars in a virtual world looking towards each other and the people behind those characters truly connecting with each other.”
The SMI Social Eye offers all relevant parameters and degrees of animation as well as a wide range of abstraction layers for the graphical representation. This is important in order to adapt the degree of realism of an avatar to the overall social and graphical context.
Better eye-to-eye connection between human representations such as avatars is key to overcoming the “Uncanny Valley” – the concept developed in the 1970s that human replicas arouse revulsion among human beings as they become more lifelike. The Uncanny Valley – our deepest negative emotional response to these characters – gives way to a more positive response as the avatar attains human-to-human empathy levels.
The SMI Social Eye is built upon SMI’s robust eye tracking technology that reliably works with all eye and skin types, with contact lenses and with glasses. It is being launched as the role of avatars in the virtual space is evolving. Beyond game play and chat rooms, avatars are now a way of sharing live sport, music and videos; and are central to the next-generation experience in social media.
Cyril Tuschi, the Founder of You-VR Labs said: “With the SMI Social Eye we will be able to depict far more detailed and directional human eyes which are, as we know, the windows to the soul. SMI Social Eye is set to transform non–verbal communication in virtual worlds.”
The SMI Social Eye works exclusively with SMI eye tracking which has been successfully integrated in leading VR headsets including the Samsung Gear VR, the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift DK 2 and has been proven with 250,000+ participants.
Eye tracking in HMDs brings with it the promise of gaze based interaction, meaning menus can be navigated hands free, and foveated rendering, which produces a richer VR experience with less processing power and lower energy consumption.