Eye-tracking technology once associated with musty university research labs are finding their way in virtual and augmented reality headsets. The current virtual reality headsets, such as the Oculus Rift and the HTV Vive, do not have eye trackers. These headsets know which direction users are looking but not where their eyes are focused. For instance, Microsoft HoloLens change direction when users move their heads. Eye-tracking technology enhances VR by making the experience more realistic and efficient.
Pupil Labs was funded by MIT students Morit Kassner and Will Patera in 2014. When they first started, they did not have any funding. So the two disassembled off-theshelf webcams and made prototype eye trackers with 3-D printers. Now the company receives supplies from suppliers in China, assembles its products from a small office in Berlin, and then sells the products to university researchers. The product only costs a few thousand dollars. The software is open source and free. Before Pupil, researchers had to pay $20,000 from established brands like SMI.
Pupil headsets integrate eye tracking with VR and AR hardware. Pupil headsets can be added onto Microsoft Hololens AR headset and HTC Vive Binocular. Important part of Pupil is their belief in open source. They have formed their entire business around the open source model. In addition to hardware, Pupil also provides open source software support. Pupil Capture is the software that works with the Pupil headsets. It receives video and audio streams, detects pupil, tracks user’s gaze, and streams data in real-time over the network. Pupil Player is the media a data visualizer for Pupil headsets. Pupil constantly updates and improves the software platform.
Pupil is well received by the research community. Researcher Jon Matthis recorded himself playing a quick match of Blizzard’s multiplayer hero shooter while wearing a binocular mobile eye tracker from Pupil Labs. Matthis uses Pupil for his research on human sensorimotor control.
At Idaho State University, a doctoral student used Pupil to teach spatial thinking skills. Rick Richardson is investigating the use of topographic maps to teach spatial thinking skills and measure the total amount of participant’s mental effort, known as cognitive load. Spatial thinking is an important part of human brain development, but receive limited instruction in K-12. For this project, Richardson uses Pupil headsets to measure user’s visual attention and cognitive load through eye movements and pupil dilation.
Pupil’s main competitors include Tobii and SMI. The industry is moving towards cheaper, smaller and better performance. Pupil headset is built with light material and in small size. It has significantly price advantage over its competitors. Moreover, with its open source software, it captures more users.