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Valve is adding SMI eye-tracking tech to OpenVR platform

Upgraded HTC Vive will be shown at GDC this week, Valve also working with LG on a brand new headset

Valve is collaborating with SensoMotoric Instruments to add eye-tracking to its OpenVR platform, and it will show a new version of the HTC Vive featuring the technology at GDC this week.

According to Tom's Hardware, which received confirmation from both companies, Valve and SMI sent an undiclosed number of eye-tracking enabled Vives to research partners around the world. This week at GDC will be the first occasion on which the upgraded headset will be demoed for the press and the wider development community.

Christian Villwock, a director at SMI, said: "This demo is the result of the experience and the valuable learnings we have accumulated during our relationship with Valve, a company that had the foresight to see the value of eye tracking at an early stage."

The importance of eye-tracking to creating immersive VR experiences has been widely discussed, opening up new possibilities for intuitive, gesture-free navigation and more believable and responsive virtual avatars. A number of VR companies have been working with the technology, with the Japanese company Fove among the more prominent examples.

Fove raised $11 million from Colopl's VR fund based on its expertise with Foveated Rendering, a technique that adjusts GPU workload based on where the user is focusing their eyes - you can read more about that in our interview with Fove CEO Yuka Kojima. Oculus has also declared its interest in eye-tracking with the acquisition of the Danish firm The Eye Tribe at the start of this year.

"Eye tracking opens up several interesting possibilities to both VR developers and customers," Valve's Yasser Malaika told Tom's Hardware. "Our collaboration with SMI on R&D, as well as on SMI's efforts to make eye-tracking enabled Vive units available to the larger VR community, have been critical to our growing understanding of how HMDs with integrated eye tracking will positively impact the future of VR."

While it's near certain that eye-tracking will be a part of the HTC Vive in the future, the appearance of an upgraded headset at GDC doesn't necessarily indicate an upgraded consumer product in the very near future. However, SMI has signed agreements for its technology with at least ten headset manufacturers.

Valve has also announced that LG Electronics will be following in the footsteps of HTC into VR. The South Korean tech giant will be showing its first headset prototype at Valve's GDC booth. Details on pricing and the launch period will be announced at a later date, Valve said.

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