Oculus, the virtual reality company Facebook acquired for $2 billion in early 2014, has acquired The Eye Tribe, a 16-person startup that builds eye-tracking software. Details about the acquisition price and what Facebook plans to do with Eye Tribe are unavailable but speculation is that eye tracking will become part of Facebook-owned Oculus’s virtual reality (VR) system.
Oculus spokespersons confirmed the acquisition but declined to comment on the deal amount and what Facebook plans to do with the startup.
Eye Tribe was founded in 2011 to develop affordable, consumer-oriented eye-tracking technology. The company has produced an API that allows software developers to build eye tracking into their applications and a $199 consumer product called the Eye Tribe Tracker Pro.
The company had raised around $3 million from investors including Startup Bootcamp, and taken a $2.3 million grant from The Danish National Advanced Technology Foundation. The Eye Tribe competed in TechCrunch’s CES Hardware Battlefield in early 2014 when it first began shipping its dev kit. Lately it’s been working to get more developers on its SDK, building applications that benefit from eye tracking.
Eye tracking has the potential to bring immediate enhancements to virtual reality. For example, the viewer’s sense of immersion can be enriched if the VR system can quickly orient the viewing experience around the location where the user’s gaze is focused. On the technical side, fully rendering only the area of the image where the viewer is looking (known as “foveated rendering”) can reduce the computational power needed to bring deeply immersive VR to consumer systems.
Facebook may be more interested in what Eye Tribe calls passive tracking. Passive eye tracking records where a person looks and how long they look at a specific location. The technology is usually advertised as a method for making user interfaces more friendly and website displays more effective from a marketing perspective.