Eye Tribe, founded in 2011 by four IT University of Copenhagen students, details its technology as “eye control for consumer devices that enables simplified and enhanced user experiences” in its company mission statement. Facebook has merged the Eye Tribe team with its Oculus VR team, which it recently acquired for $2 billion.
Last year, Oculus founder Palmer Luckey called eye tracking technology a “critical part” of VR’s future, saying: “I’m very, very in tune with what’s going on in eye tracking research,” according to Upload VR.
Eye Tribe started out with a developer-focused product and did quite well. They sold over 10,000 units of their eye-tracking system to companies that were looking to embed the technology into their devices.
But even before the acquisition by Facebook, Eye Tribe was one of the only companies trying to market the technology to consumers as well.
At TechCrunch’s 2014 CES Hardware Battlefield, Eye Tribe co-founder and CEO Sune Alstrup Johansen told an audience: “We didn’t invent eye tracking, it’s been around for years, but it’s never been available for the consumer market, and that’s because it’s been extremely expensive.”
“Eye tracking is going to be integrated into everyday devices, like smartphones and tablets,” he went on to explain, adding: “You’d be able to pull up your smartphone from your pocket, look at it, and it would magically log you in. or you’d be able to read on your iPad, and it turns pages automatically because it knows exactly when you’ve finished reading the page.”
Eye-tracking technology could also benefit automotive interfaces in self-driving cars and provide advertisers with “gaze analytics” that shows which ads draw consumer’s eyes the most.
The acquisition also gives the Oculus team access to Eye Tribe’s state-of-the-art rendering technology, which selectively renders high-quality graphics depending on what the eyes are looking at. This technology significantly reduces the GPU load and power consumption of the device, which provides better performance for VR headsets.
Facebook is not the only company acquiring eye tracking technology. Google has also recently acquired a company called Eyefluence, a competitor to Eye Tribe, and there are a number of other startups looking to get into the game.