HP’s New VR Headset Knows When You’re Paying Attention

VR that’s watching you back

Key Takeaways

  • HP’s new virtual reality Omnicept headset claims to measure when users are paying attention.
  • The headset also includes a face camera and heart rate tracker to monitor users and provide feedback. 
  • The Omnicept is aimed at businesses and developers and joins a growing field of virtual reality headsets.
HP Reverb G2 Omnicept Edition is the world’s most intelligent VR headset.

HP claims its new Omnicept virtual headset can measure when users are paying attention by using a face camera, heart rate tracker, and other technologies. 

The Omnicept, announced today and aimed at businesses and developers, joins a growing number of virtual reality gear aimed at online collaboration. With millions of people working from home during the coronavirus pandemic, companies are increasingly looking to virtual reality as a workspace.

Omnicept’s face camera captures the user’s expressions, making it easier for people to connect online, HP claims. "Facial expressions actually account for up to 50 percent of effective communication," Anu Herranen, HP’s Director of New Product Introduction, Advanced Compute & Solutions, said in a news briefing. It will let people be "more cognizant of each other's behavior and feelings really drives happier, more efficient teams."

All in on VR

HP also announced today that the previously revealed Reverb G2 virtual reality headset, which is aimed at consumers, will start shipping in November. The G2 lacks many of the advanced features of the Omnicept, like the face camera and heart rate monitor.

The cameras on the Omnicept are intended to make communicating through VR more realistic, said Herranen. Virtual avatars are "relatively stiff and inexpressive," she said, so with the face camera "we are able to bring the expression back to a virtual experience," and it will allow users to see when people are moving their lips in VR.

Aside from the camera, the Omnicept also gathers a wide range of other data about users. Integrated sensors and proprietary algorithms measure muscle movement, pulse, pupil size, and gaze "to scientifically capture the level of brain power users exert in a VR session," according to an HP news release. 

With the headset tracking so many personal details, HP officials explained they were also focusing on privacy. No data will be stored on the device and the company will follow European privacy regulations, HP officials said at the news briefing. 

Learning to Fly

HP is pitching the Omnicept as a tool for virtual training. Since the coronavirus began, there’s been a more than 35 percent increase in the use of VR for training, Herranen said.

One possibility would be to use the Omnicept to teach pilots how to fly. VR headsets work better than most flight simulators, Paul Heitmeyer, an aviation consultant, told HP’s news conference, "because your eyes will trick your brain into thinking that I'm actually flying. They're able to retain that information so much better."

A new generation of VR could also make pilot training more affordable, Heitmeyer said. Full-fledged simulators used by airlines to train pilots can cost millions of dollars. But VR headsets have "gotten much cheaper, they've gotten much more accessible via an entire system online now for just a few thousand dollars."

Facebook Sees Big Market for its Own Headset

HP is joining a crowded field for VR gear. Facebook, for example, is also aiming its own Oculus headset at remote workers. The company recently announced a collaboration that allows workers to work in virtual offices while typing on a real keyboard. 

Isabel Tewes, Product Manager of Productivity and Enterprise at Facebook Reality Labs, said in an email interview that the pandemic is driving an increase in interest in VR for work. "Scientists are doing collaborative molecular mapping from home, surgeons are continuing surgical training without stepping foot on campus, and companies are hosting virtual meetings and feeling like they’re really there with coworkers," she added.

In some cases, working in VR offers advantages over other training methods, Tewes said. One study found that VR-trained surgeons performed 230 percent better compared with traditional training methods and completed the procedure an average of 20 percent faster than the traditionally-trained group, she added.

"Studies like these show an improvement in both knowledge, confidence and speed," Tewes said. "There’s also time efficiencies—for example, car designers can prototype vehicles more quickly and take those models through the review." 

It’s clear that as the coronavirus pandemic winds on, users are looking for more ways to connect and collaborate online. WIth its array of sensors, HP’s new Omnicept headset is a sign that VR manufacturers are seeking to get more feedback on this growing market.

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