We’re still waiting to test out HP’s next PC-VR headset, the $600 HP G2, but before it begins shipping to preorder customers in November, HP has already unveiled its next VR sales pitch. And it’s a biometric-tracking doozy.
The HP G2 Omnicept Edition delivers everything you’ll find in the G2, including a pair of high-res, fast-switching LCD panels; an “inside-out” tracking solution; lenses, speakers, and other optimizations borrowed from Valve Index; and HP’s updated version of the Windows Mixed Reality controllers.
But this higher-tier version, which has a vague “Spring 2021” launch window and no price yet, is aimed squarely at enterprise customers with a wealth of built-in sensors. These include: eye-tracking and pupillometry sensors, to separately determine your gaze and your moment-to-moment dilation; a heart rate sensor; and a facial-capture camera, to translate how you look to other users. (HP has not yet shown us how that facial-capture system will work, and they’ve confirmed that some of its features will not be part of the Omnicept’s launch SDK.)
De-identify, aggregate, and secure
HP was careful not to attach any of these sensors’ potential to consumer-level entertainment options like games or movie-watching. Instead, the company’s PR team talked primarily about this headset as a useful solution for training exercises—with a not-so-subtle nudge about how virtualized versions of intense scenarios may prove useful during our continued quarantine era. (Without a firm launch window, however, there’s no telling whether we’ll see the G2 Omnicept before a working COVID-19 vaccine.)
Before I could pipe up with my timely concerns, HP shoved a slide in my face with three privacy-minded bullet points. First, the HP Omnicept SDK, which gives developers the full suite of APIs needed to capture and translate biometric data, has been developed with GDPR compliance at its core. Second, HP’s cloud infrastructure offer to enterprise-grade Omnicept customers promises to “de-identify, aggregate, and secure” all user data that it processes.
Last of all, HP says the headset itself “secures data during capture within a legal framework that adheres to GDPR, and no data is stored on the headset.” That still leaves data handling up to individual firms who hand these headsets, and their compatible training apps, to staffers and students—and decide what to do with the wealth of personal information, particularly emotional responses (as tracked by heartrate and pupil sensors), gleaned by any battery of training sequences or tests.
“Privacy was the beginning of the [Omnicept] conversations,” consultant and Virtual Human Interaction Lab Founding Director Jeremy Bailenson said about the rollout of Omnicept as a product line, and he alleged that the company will “open up” data that scientists can access related to how G2 Omnicept’s sensors work—though exactly what data will roll out and how remains to be seen.
“Not going to do much” for gamers
HP Product Manager Scott Rawlings claims that its Omnicept SDK will go so far as to give developers “APIs for cognitive load.” As an example, Rawlings described a scenario where trainers understand how stressed someone might be when handling difficult simulations such as piloting a plane through 60MPH winds, or to track how effective a training regimen is by seeing an engineer’s mental state improve after practicing and receiving further instruction. It didn’t take me long to think of the potential evils that might come from employers having fine-tuned data about staffers’ cognitive load, of course.
One less-creepy bonus about the eye-tracking system is that it opens up HP G2 Omnicept’s support for “foveated rendering.” The Omnicept’s SDK can “follow the direction of the eye” and adjust 3D rendering on the fly to blur whatever pixels a VR user is not looking directly at, and thus make performance more efficient. HP says that this part of its SDK will be open to developers at large, which is possibly good news for future headsets or third-party eye-tracking systems added to existing headsets.
Notice all of the comments above about training and employees? That’s intentional. HP has made it clear that the headset will not be aimed at the consumer-grade market, which seems as much an indication of its retail plan (read: less collaboration with retailers, more of a case-by-case sales basis with enterprise customers) as its likely price window (read: higher than the $600 G2). “Unless [customers] have software that supports this functionality, [Omnicept’s special features] are not going to do much for them,” Rawlings says about the potential of buying this as a gaming headset (though it will support SteamVR by default, at least).
Listing image by HP