Tobii Technology is a company that is probably best known for its eye tracking and control applications to aid communication for people with special needs, however it has recently left its comfort zone by applying its expertise to the world of gaming. EyeAsteroids is the first of a planned series of arcade machines that use eye control in favour of a joystick or buttons, and Pocket-lint got to try it out during a London leg of its current world tour.
The game itself owes much to the original Asteroids arcade game, first released back in 1979, although there's no thrust, shoot, rotate or hyperspace buttons. Instead, on the initial levels at least, you must blow up hunks of rock that are rapidly approaching an Earth-like globe, simply by looking at them.
Before you start, the machine needs to be calibrated to suit your eyes. It will work without, but may not be as sensitive. It's also a harmless and quick process, just requiring you to look at markers around the screen as they appear.
Once done, the game starts for real and the first level is fairly straight forward. As well as look at each asteroid, you have to avoid staring at the green health modules as doing so will destroy them too, and your planet's survival may depend on them.
After this (and, essentially, after you've got used to not using your hands or wiggling about), there's a section where, not only do you have to zap the floating debris, but also move your head left and right in order to guide your globe through a corridor in, what looks like, the middle of a sun.
The third level is a harder version of the first, and so on... We've no idea what comes next as, during our few plays, we got nowhere near getting any further.
What did surprise us, though, is how quickly we got used to just using our eyes, and getting to grips with destroying the asteroids by just looking at them. It's strange not to have to use your hands in any way, but you get so engrossed in the action that you soon forget.
The way EyeAsteroids works is it sends infrared beams out from a unit below the screen, which reflect off your eyes and back to sensors. These then read exact eye position and transfer that information into in-game movement and grid position. It's all extremely clever, and extremely accurate. We were also told by Tobii's business development manager Anders Olsson that the game works just as well for people with glasses.
It is also likely to be followed by other machines, with Olsson also explaining to us that it would be perfect for a football game: "The natural next step is to bring the joystick back. Bring the buttons back. And add the eyes as a third thing," he said.
"In a football game, you could control the player with the joystick. You'd shoot with the buttons. And where you look could be the one you pass to. Or where you aim at the goal is where you're looking."
Exciting stuff. And the company is currently working with external developers who are exploring other gaming applications.
Indeed, Olsson's ultimate goal is to have the same technology make its way into the home, as part of the next generation of console gaming or in laptops: "In a couple of years down the road, this will end up in smaller consumer electronics," he explained.
"It will makes games more immersive, or improve the speed at which you can drive the game."
If you want to try it out, Tobii is currently touring the machine around the world, with its next stop at CES in Las Vegas. And there are plans to bring it back to London's Trocadero in Piccadilly at the end of January for a prospective six week stint.
The company has also built another 49 units for now, and will be putting them in arcade halls globally soon. Some of them will also be sold privately: "We also have some rich individuals that have bought them for their homes," said Olsson.
What do you think? Would you like to see eye control implemented in home console gaming? Let us know in the comments below...