Google just made a big move to distinguish its VR tech from everything else on the market

Make selections in the blink of an eye.
Make selections in the blink of an eye.
Image: Reuters/Beck Diefenbach
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In its current state, virtual reality technology isn’t exactly seamless. Most versions require that you move your head from side to side to navigate through the virtual screens and operate physical touchpads to click through menu selections.

California-based Eyefluence is trying to change that using eye-tracking technology that would let people use their eye movement as a computer’s mouse, manipulating objects and digital screens. The company has been around for three years, and has reportedly raised $21.6 million in funding, but on Monday (Oct. 24) it made an announcement that signals it may have real staying power: it was acquired by Google. Google confirmed the deal to Quartz, but wouldn’t divulge details about the price or the Eyefluence team’s role within the company.

With affordable options like Google’s own $79 Daydream and Xiaomi’s incredibly cheap $29 Mi VR headsets coming to market,  virtual reality is already beginning to entice gamers and tech aficionados. Doing away with the clunkiness of using current headsets could make the technology even more appealing. At Google, the Eyefluence’s eye tracking technology is likely to make its way into a high-end standalone headset, according to Engadget, to work with sensors and algorithms to map out the real-world space in front of a user.

“Imagine being able to do anything you can do with your finger on a smartphone or tablet, but only using your eyes,” Eyefluence’s chief operating officer Jim Marggraff told Time last year. “Navigating data, zooming on content, and getting information is much faster when you can instantly access it by looking at it.”

Eye interaction could be the leap virtual reality needs to  become more mainstream. For instance, the technology could enable technicians to view maintenance and repair manuals or videos via their glasses or headsets while keeping their hands free to perform the work, Forbes suggests.

Marggraff started Eyefluence in 2013, after buying up assets from neurological research firm Eye-Com. They aren’t the only player in the VR space that has recognized the long term potential of eye tracking. Google itself has invested in Magic Leap, a startup supposedly working on eye interaction, iris recognition, and other related technologies. And Fove, a Tokyo-based startup that launched in 2014, starts accepting pre-orders for its Kickstarter-backed $349 VR headset with eye-tracking sensors in a week.