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head tracking

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

Head tracking is a software application that monitors a user’s head position and orientation. It’s often used alongside face and eye tracking to help and improve human-computer interaction (HCI).

Head tracking is often used to simulate the experience of freely looking around in virtual (VR) or augmented reality (AR), allowing the user to experience an immersive and natural way to look around in virtual environments.

There are a number of methods used for head tracking. Screen quality and head-tracking responsiveness are some of the most significant user experience differentiators between high-end headsets, like Oculus Rift, and low-end headsets and smartphone holding designs like Google Cardboard. Devices that use smartphones often rely on phone accelerometers and gyroscopes. High-end headsets have more accurate tracking with precise sensors, along with other systems including infrared LEDs, cameras and magnetometers.

Because head tracking in AR or VR can simulate real life experiences, it can fool the brain even better than standard viewing for a more engaging and immersive user experience. However, tracking input lag and looking at screens for a prolonged period of time can cause side effects. Head tracking lag and lower refresh rates on screens, in particular, can cause simulation sickness, a form of motion sickness resulting in headaches and nausea.

Head tracking is used in a variety of fields like security, gaming and medicine. It can also be used for computer-aided design, 3-D modeling and general hands-free computing to improve computer accessibility.

A comparison of head tracking devices:

This was last updated in May 2017

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