The race to usurp Oculus Rift as the leader in virtual reality headsets is on, with companies including Google, Microsoft, and HTC all looking for a slice of the market. Virtual reality has exploded so quickly it’s hard to know which new features will be big next. But based on a recently discovered patent for a future Gear VR model, it looks like Samsung aims to bring the first VR headset with eye- and face-tracking to the masses.

When added to a virtual reality platform, eye-tracking would allow users to walk through 3D environments without being tethered to a controller. This kind of advancement could open up enormous potential for the future of virtual reality.

On top of the headset would be a camera used for movement tracking.
On top of the headset would be a camera used for movement tracking.

Facial monitoring would be a boon social gaming and collaborative environments, allowing users to see the motions of other users in real time. Both would help eliminate the eye-strain and nausea that have come to be associated with virtual reality.

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External sensors on the headset would aid in motion tracking.
External sensors on the headset would aid in motion tracking.

Of course, there is a good chance eye-tracking headsets will already be on the market by the time (if and when) Samsung releases its own headset. FOVE, a company that made a splash on Kickstarter last year by raising $480,000, opened up preorders for eye-tracking virtual reality headset in late November. Tobii already offers an add-on eye-tracking platform for its StarVR headset.

Production aside, both Samsung and other companies looking to add eye-tracking have a few hurdles before the technology can become commonplace. For starters, because most VR platforms don’t involve eye or facial tracking, programs for the new device would have to be built from scratch. If we’ve learned anything from the VR boom, it’s that the technology is developing faster than developers can keep up.

While the patent is exciting, it doesn’t necessarily mean the product will come to market soon — or at all. But it at least shows us the kind of technology virtual reality tech companies are looking toward as the future.

Photos via Getty Images / Paul Morigi