Forget swiping, Apple’s AR headset will react to what users are looking at

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Hololens
Microsoft's HoloLens are currently the mixed reality glasses to beat.
Photo: Microsoft

Apple’s upcoming augmented reality head-mounted display will be controlled by eye-tracking technology, TF International Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo says in a note sent to clients Friday.

Instead of using hand controls, the technology will be able to detect wearers’ eye movements and blinking, then instantly compute the required information so it can be seen on the device’s micro-OLED display.

Apple’s eye-tracking tech

In his new note, seen by Cult of Mac, Kuo provides a few more details about this system — as well as the manufacturers potentially involved:

“That eye tracking will be one of the most important user interface technologies for AR/MR. We believe SensoMotoric Instruments (SMI) provides Apple’s eye-tracking design solution and algorithms and that Primax is the sole supplier of the eye-tracking transmitter module. We are still unsure if the Apple HMD can support iris recognition, but the hardware specifications suggest that the device can implement this function.”

Researchers have been exploring eye-tracking technology for a while now. For example, roboticists demonstrated flying a drone using eye-tracking in 2018. Others want to use eye-tracking for advertising purposes, by revealing where a viewer’s attention is focused.

However, Apple’s AR headset could be the first successful mass-market implementation of eye-tracking for control of a head-mounted display. It would be a game-changer if Apple pulls it off.

A more intuitive user experience

Kuo notes that this would provide a very intuitive user experience. “For example, a user can blink continuously to activate a menu,” he writes. “Or when a user looks at a tangible object for a few seconds, a window with information about that object pops up.”

It could also be useful for conserving power. One of the biggest challenges of a head-mounted display is how to carry out processing in an optimized way. Kuo observes that, using eye-tracking, the headset can figure out the area of the image to optimize. This would be based on what the user is looking at directly at the time.

In addition, he provides some broad technical details about how the system will work:

“Apple’s eye-tracking system consists of the transmitter and receiver. The transmitter provides one or more different wavelengths of invisible light, and the receiver detects changes in the eye’s reflection of invisible light and uses these changes to determine eye movement.”

Apple previously pursued multiple patents related to eye-tracking technology. However, to date the company has not implemented these into a product.

Possible iris recognition technology

Finally, Kuo suggests that there’s a chance Apple’s AR headset could offer iris recognition. Presumably, this would be a form of biometric authentication, similar to Face ID or Touch ID but focused on the iris. Kuo says the hardware could support this. However, it remains unclear if Apple will go down this route.

Kuo previously suggested that Apple’s AR headset will debut in mid-2022. He claims that it will feature 15 built-in camera modules.