Eyes on eye-tracking: what exactly are SteelSeries and Tobii doing together?

Tobii EyeX dev kit
The final form of Tobii's EyeX developer kit controller

The week before CES, eye-tracking experts Tobii and gaming accessories maker SteelSeries announced a partnership that they said will see eye-tracking peripherals become household products.

But that announcement was sorely lacking in details, a situation neither company would rectify leading up to the big Las Vegas tech show.

Thankfully they were slightly more forthcoming when it came time to chat in person and see a demo of Tobii's latest technology. It turns out SteelSeries will indeed be in charge of the consumer-facing version of Tobii's EyeX "controller."

Where the EyeX is Tobii's own developer kit - platform, engine and hardware - what SteelSeries ultimately creates will take advantage of that company's experience and brand name to appeal directly to hardcore gamers, representatives and executives told TechRadar at CES.

SteelSeries has the experience

Tobii has been demoing prototypes of the EyeX for some time now. At its CES booth, the company had those same prototypes plus one of the new, slimmer controllers (really they're cameras, like a smaller Kinect, not controllers) being sent out in the final dev kits.

Tobii EyeX

The old Tobii EyeX prototype was present again at CES

After a slightly dodgy calibration process, the EyeX controller tracks users' eyes, letting them control the camera, select weapons, and do more in games like World of Warcraft, or letting them make selections, zoom in, and other functions in Windows 8. It all works surprisingly well.

None of that is new, though - unlike the SteelSeries partnership.

"SteelSeries will take this platform and put their own ID on it," Tobii Vice President of Business Development Carl Korobkin told TechRadar.

He continued, "Really it's a great marriage to bring the product to market and to deal with the consumer, [SteelSeries] audience, the game developers, game players. They have that experience. Our business is really an OEM business, so we looked to partner with brand name OEMs such as SteelSeries, and we'll continue to do that."

He said the long, narrow EyeX dev kit "controller" is close to what SteelSeries' consumer product will ultimately look like.

'Winning is everything'

SteelSeries Public Relations Manager Travis Hezel suggested that Tobii's eye-tracking tech will be used for other features that we've yet to see in action.

For example, players of competitive first person shooters might be able to watch gameplay replays with metadata indicating where on the screen they were looking when they were killed. Hardcore players might use that information to alter their strategies, Hezel said.

"Our slogan has always been 'winning is everything,' and bringing that to Tobii and being able to get this into the hands of core gamers and use our marketing avenues and channels is the main reason [for our partnership]," he said.

Tobii EyeX

Tobii's eye-tracking tech built into a monitor

"The details of exactly cost and exactly what that will look like are still to be determined, because our R&D department is still working on that with their team," SteelSeries Director of Global PR Tori Pugliese told TechRadar as well.

"But it will be an actual physical product that people can purchase, and then the software on the backend will be implemented through our SteelSeries engine."

That will let the Tobii controller work in tandem with SteelSeries mice, keyboards, and other accessories, she explained.

Tobii laptop

And Tobii in a laptop as well

Both Pugliese and Korobkin confirmed that we'll be seeing this SteelSeries eye-tracker in late 2014.

Tobii's CES booth also featured prototypes of eye-tracking sensors built into laptops and monitors.

Korobkin also confirmed that more announcements are coming regarding Tobii eye-tracking hardware being built into notebooks, laptops and other devices from other manufacturers.

"Going forward we'll be in all platforms in a more embedded fashion," he said.

Michael Rougeau

Michael Rougeau is a former freelance news writer for TechRadar. Studying at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Northeastern University, Michael has bylines at Kotaku, 1UP, G4, Complex Magazine, Digital Trends, GamesRadar, GameSpot, IFC, Animal New York, @Gamer, Inside the Magic, Comic Book Resources, Zap2It, TabTimes, GameZone, Cheat Code Central, Gameshark, Gameranx, The Industry, Debonair Mag, Kombo, and others.

Micheal also spent time as the Games Editor for Playboy.com, and was the managing editor at GameSpot before becoming an Animal Care Manager for Wags and Walks.