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Fintech Updated: 22 Aug 2017

Glasses that let you see through someone else's eyes

Tobii Glasses 2 track pupil movements to identify exactly where the wearer is looking.

virtual reality internet innovation resource bbva

In the movie Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze, 1999), the main characters find themselves inside the eponymous actor's head and see the world through his eyes. And fiction may become reality with the new Tobii Glasses 2, which let others see what the wearer is looking at in real time. The glasses' eye-tracking technology identifies where the wearer focuses most and also supports commands using only the wearer's pupils. The glasses will go on sale in October at a starting price of around 15,000 euro.

The Tobii Glasses 2 may be very useful for human behavioral experiments,as well as for advertising research and simulations. However, as the Product Director at Tobii, Rasmus Petersson, says, “one of our main aims is for other product developers to incorporate the eye-tracking technology in their own devices.” Thus, Google Glass would be "a potential client rather than a competitor," he says. As well as the existing voice commands, the electronics giant may wish to allow users to control the head-mounted display using pupil movements.

The device looks like a pair of rimless frame glasses, with the lenses attached to a brow-like structure that connects the two arms. This is actually one of the key benefits of this version against its predecessor, the Tobii Glasses 1, which had the same features but was hindered by a restricted field of vision, with the frames blocking out the sides. This improvement has also cut the device's weight to 45 grams, "nearly the same as normal glasses," says Petersson.

The new wearable device carries five cameras. Four of the cameras, two on each lenses, are aimed at the wearer's eyes, recording their movements. The fifth, a 1080 pixel camera fitted into the brow of the glasses, looks out to identify what the user is looking at any given time.

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The combined action of the five cameras can contextualize the behavior of a potential buyer standing before a supermarket shelf stocked full of products. What catches their eye? What do they look for? These glasses will be able to answer such questions. Petersson takes another example from the world of sport: “If Cristiano Ronaldo wore these glasses when taking a penalty, we could analyze his tactics as he prepares to shoot, where he focuses his attention and even whether he fools the goalkeeper with which way he looks”.

Videogames and morePetersson also points to videogames as an area where Tobii 2 glasses could have interesting applications. At the beginning of the year his company announced the launch of a new gaming device that would allow PC gamers to control videogames using their eyes. The device is set to reach the market in the summer.

The videogame industry monitors such potentially disruptive technologies very closely, as we were told by the Editorial Director of the Spanish videogame company Virtual Toys, Gilberto Sánchez. "In such a highly competitive market, companies have to constantly incorporate new devices that improve the gamer experience," he says.

"The possibility of including these intelligent glasses depends not only on how ground-breaking the features are, but also how many devices are circulating among potential game users," he adds. To find out we will have to wait until October when Tobii releases the new devices, when it will also provide developers with details of the technology. 

The game console industry has worked with other glasses in the past, such as Oculus Rift, which immerse the gamer in a virtual world "so vivid that if they jump of a cliff in the game it feels like they are actually falling,” says Sánchez. Such devices add a considerable feeling of realism to games, he tells us.

Specifically with regard to Tobii glasses, Sánchez believes one good application would be in museums and exhibitions. "They would help to contextualize exhibitions based on positioning and where the visitor is looking at any given moment," he explains. The user's mobile device "could offer further personalized information rather than them having to rely on guides." In his opinion, such interactive experiences are usually very popular among consumers.