There’s been a lot of hype recently, at least within parts of the tech industry, about the metaverse. So, Johan, my first question for you is, what do you think the metaverse is? What’s your take on it? 

Although perhaps not necessarily labeled as such, metaverse has been coming for a while. It has come about because people have made innovative connections between evolving technologies. Metaverse is a mixed-reality (MR) space where people can come together to work, play, collaborate, and even make a living, either as themselves or as an avatar. It’s a level playing field that anyone can enter from any device, anywhere. Technology platforms and metaverse solutions will solve the time and space challenges so that being together in MR will feel authentic and coherent. 

 

Why do you think the metaverse is happening now? Why not earlier, when mixed reality was more of a vision? 

Much of the hype is, of course, because big tech companies like Meta (formerly Facebook), Microsoft, and NVIDIA are using the metaverse to describe the convergence of a range of technologies, and perhaps more importantly to tell the story for consumers without getting buried in the details. Cloud services, wide area networks, and mobile networking have become established to the point where they can support complex, bandwidth-heavy services with sustainable business models for operators. Devices have matured and are starting to deliver on the immersive promise with adoption being further fueled by ever-decreasing form factors and lower prices — creating new demands for content and providing developers with an expanding market. And when you join all these dots together, you get the metaverse and what it promises. 

 

So, what has the metaverse got to do with us, with Tobii? Why are we sitting here today discussing it? 

As the metaverse evolves, we will see a rise in the popularity of VR and AR wearables because of the level of immersion they offer. Spatial acoustics will simulate sound authentically so that people can be in an MR space and rely on auditory cues to interact with each other.

 

XR devices will be a big part of the metaverse because they deliver immersion, which is key to feeling like you are in another place and participating in it for real. So why is comfort such an issue? 

Office-based workforces have grown accustomed to multiple monitors and devices, choosing whatever solution best suits what they need to do and where they need to do it. In the same way that ergonomics is essential to sustainable working conditions, comfort is crucial for XR.

 

What about new technology trends from the hardware perspective?  And what is Tobii doing to ensure our integration platforms adapt?  

What do you see as the biggest challenge when applying eye-tracking technology in consumer XR devices? 

That brings us deeper into what I’ve just mentioned about systems living up to the everyone, everywhere, every device principle (the three e’s). Because, as you know, it’s relatively easy to develop an eye tracking system that works in a controlled environment but making one that lives up to the three e’s isn’t. We’ve been working for over two decades now, doing the research and gaining the competence to deliver a solution that works — one that caters for different eye shapes, colors, and retinal reflectivity, sight correction, and so on. But for the consumer environment, it’s not just about reaching 95% population coverage; it’s about delivering a robust solution that is repeatable in large-scale production. If you want to read more about how we’ve done this, you can check out Andreas’s post on the importance of building universal technologies in his post on demystifying eye tracking for XR.  

 

And what eye-tracking application areas do you think will first jump into the metaverse? 

Well, I would say it’s the usual suspects, healthcare and wellbeing, collaboration, gaming, social, education, and simulation-based training. However, I’d say healthcare and wellbeing are the top runners in the enterprise sector. I say this because of the increased interest we saw in 2021 for Tobii Ocumen — our analytics toolkit for data recording, organization, and analysis of human behaviour that these kinds of advanced applications require. Remember when we met up with Scott Anderson of SyncThink to find the keys to scalability and he talked about how they were an application waiting for the perfect hardware to come along? I think we can expect to see more of these kinds of applications waiting for the right hardware and eye-tracking signals. And our partners at REACT Neuro and Apeiron Life have taken a serious look at the importance of cognitive performance through decades of life. As Dr. Martin points out, wellbeing is no longer limited to keeping physically active and eating properly, it’s also about preventing cognitive decline.

Before we wrap things up, Johan, I’d like to ask you about standards and the need for OpenXR.

One of the most effective ways to promote cross-platform agility is through open standards because they help prevent vendor lock-in and time-consuming device adaptation. But it also allows big tech and niche operators to work together. And as you know, OpenXR released an extension for eye tracking to the standard back in 2020, but what we can look forward to this year, is the implementation of the standard in commercial headsets and supporting solutions like Microsoft Windows MR platform. 
Eye-tracking in every device, which will require integrated technologies like ours to live up to everyone, everywhere, every device principle. We will see continued diversity in device types, with workhorses for simulation environments, but the major trend points to untethered, lightweight headsets.
For consumers, it will be interesting to see how people react to Meta’s Horizon now that it’s passed the beta phase and moved on to a broader public release. We won’t reach the level playing field just yet, but we will see enhanced devices with eye-tracking and a rise in authentic avatars, realistic eye contact, easy-to-use interfaces, and enhanced game play, for example.
(Above article is from Tobii’s blog. If you want to know more about the information, please email the editor.)