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.

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

In the future, James Bond’s nemesis might skip shooting electron-based lasers for something a bit more refined. Students at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology decided to explore water wave oscillation as a way of producing a laser beam, and incredibly, they discovered that not only is it possible, but it may make for a better approach.

Typical laser beams are produced by exciting electrons and making them oscillate. To do that, light is focused into a very precise point, concentrating the energy and producing something that can be used for, say, reading the data on a DVD or trying to get Mr. Bond to talk.

This new “water wave” follows a similar idea. Water oscillates, but before now it was considered too slow to produce any meaningful amount of energy. The light focused through a water wave would have far less energy than a traditional laser.

The team worked around this by using an optical fiber and mixing octane with water. They realized that the liquid interacting with the fiber was “echoing,” much like how sound waves reproduce someone’s voice repeatedly. The team used transparent, runny liquids to encourage this interaction further.

It’s a breakthrough that could have big implications for future laser-based devices. The water droplets are around a million times softer than the components used in today’s lasers. That means engineers could have much greater control over a laser’s emissions. It could also mean smaller laser devices, leading to efficient “lab-on-a-chip” devices that could test new drugs.

There’s a whole range of applications the technology could be useful for, but do you expect a comprehensive list of all of them? No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!

Photos via AvengedS939/YouTube, Wikimedia Commons

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