Neuro-technology firm SyncThink announced today that it has received a patent related to tracking eye movements in virtual reality headsets.

That could be a potentially important piece of intellectual property, as VR headsets become more plentiful. VR is expected to be a $30 billion market in 2020, according to tech advisor Digi-Capital. But the patent will have to survive legal challenges, as a lot of companies, from Facebook’s Oculus to Eyefluence, are working on similar technology.

Boston-based SyncThink said it received patent No. 9,439,592 from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. SyncThink hopes to innovate with improved ways to control and navigate in VR, using the tracking of eye movements to control actions. From interviews I’ve done with Eyefluence, I know that it isn’t easy to come up with a system that takes into account natural eye wandering movements and blinking.

I haven’t tried SyncThink’s technology, but the company said it is currently deployed in its first mobile medical device, Eye-Sync.

“VR technology is the ideal environment for eye tracking. It’s a platform where we can provide powerful cognitive insights,” said SyncThink chief technology officer Daniel Beeler, in a statement. “The new patent will give us the ability to expand upon the already useful product we’ve created and the capabilities of multiple industries utilizing VR headsets.”

SyncThink's eye-tracking technology can yield analytics on what a consumer is doing.

Above: SyncThink’s eye-tracking technology can yield analytics on what a consumer is doing.

Image Credit: SyncThink

To date, the company has been granted 10 patents. In addition to eye-tracking hardware, SyncThink IP covers analytical techniques for stimulating, measuring, and training brain attention networks. SyncThink analytics have been developed with support from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command to evaluate soldier readiness and brain impairment after injury. In addition to brain trauma, SyncThink analytics have applications for characterizing and monitoring fatigue, performance, and developmental or neurodegenerative conditions.

SyncThink believes that its analytics have the potential to dramatically change the way we interact with content inside and outside virtual space. Registering a subject’s level of attention using eye movements allows content to interact with the subject based on their level of attention. The interaction can be educational or it can be commercial, in the form of advertising content. Attention analysis could provide the foundation for machines and experiences to become far more attuned to our cognitive state.

“The attention brain network is activated and can be evaluated by measuring eye tracking. Attention can be degraded in fatigue, distraction, or clinical conditions such as concussion,” said Jamshid Ghajar, chairman and founder of SyncThink, in a statement. “Also there are differences in attention between individuals that can be assessed. In evaluating attention, eye tracking is a very precise, reliable, and very fast metric.”

The company has partnered with the Brain Trauma Foundation to generate an ocular-motor normative database. The partnership has studied over 10,000 individuals under clinical conditions and generated over 20 peer-reviewed research articles characterizing the impact of concussion on visual attention. This data, in addition to the granted patents, will give the team at SyncThink the ability to continue improving the Eye-Sync product for consumer use.

Ghajar founded SyncThink in 2009.

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