How far away is Facebook from developing AR glasses

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Facebook has attracted significant criticism for a number of reasons over the past few years, but it’s refreshing to see the company be so open about its plans for augmented reality glasses

Quick read

➨ Project Aria is Facebook’s ambitious plan to build augmented reality glasses. Although still very much in the research stage, plans are already underway to bring the product closer to commercialisation
➨ A limited group of Facebook employees and contractors will wear the Project Aria glasses to explore how they best work in the real world
➨ It’s notable that while Facebook is unable to commercialise augmented reality glasses right now, the company has partnered with Luxottica to release a pair of Ray-Ban smart glasses next year

The story

On top of Oculus Quest 2, Facebook Connect also brought news of the company’s plans for a pair of augmented reality glasses. Here’s what we learned.

Facebook is working on augmented reality glasses, but isn’t ready to show a finished product

Project Aria, led by the newly formed Facebook Reality Labs, is very much in the research stage. Andrew Bosworth and the augmented reality and virtual reality teams he now oversees are busy building the underlying technology.

They have made progress in this regard. In June, Facebook Reality Labs unveiled a new optical architecture that is both significantly more compact than anything it’s previously developed and offers the potential for better visual performance.

But all Facebook could show us at Facebook Connect yesterday was the next step in its research.

The Project Aria glasses are not augmented reality glasses

A limited group of Facebook employees and contractors will wear the Project Aria glasses shown at Facebook Connect to explore how they best work in the real world. Crucially, they’ll figure out how to make them socially acceptable. Remember the furore over Google Glasses a while back? That’s a significant barrier to entry for this device.

As a result, the Project Aria glasses are not an augmented reality prototype. They don’t include a display and wearers cannot directly view video or listen to audio captured by the device.

Wearers can view low-resolution thumbnails via a companion app installed on their smartphone so that they can delete segments of data. Facebook will use encryption to store the data on the Aria device and a secure ingestion system to upload data from the research devices to Facebook’s separate, designated back-end storage space.

So privacy—a significant concern about augmented reality glasses—will be tested over the coming months.

Every immersive technology device needs an entry use case: navigation is Facebook’s

Facebook believes augmented reality glasses will transform navigation. Rather than looking down at a map on your smartphone or listening to directions, you can see the way forward in front of you.

Google Maps offers an augmented reality navigation tool for Google Maps, so Facebook isn’t the only tech giant to hold this belief.

But for an augmented reality navigation system to function properly, Facebook says it must be more perceptive in order to be more genuinely useful.

This perception will come from a virtual 3D map of your surroundings, except any single device would be unable to scan and reconstruct a space in real time from scratch.

To overcome this problem, Facebook is planning to tap into an existing 3D map called LiveMaps, which uses computer vision to construct a virtual representation of the parts of the world that are relevant to you.

The Project Aria device is testing how this can work in practice, with Facebook hoping that its future augmented reality glasses will be able to efficiently see, analyse, and understand the world around them.

On top of this entry use case, Facebook is also researching how augmented reality glasses can be used to help people with varying physical abilities.

In partnership with Carnegie Mellon University’s Cognitive Assistance Laboratory, Facebook is building 3D maps of museums and airports that will have multiple applications, including helping people with visual impairments better navigate their surroundings.

Improving vision is also an entry use case under examination at Mojo Vision, which is building an augmented reality contact lens and has targeted this healthcare application as a starting point for the ambitious device.

So no augmented reality glasses just yet, however…

It’s notable that while Facebook is unable to commercialise augmented reality glasses right now, the company has partnered with Luxottica to release a pair of Ray-Ban smart glasses next year.

Little is known about the consumer device beyond the fact they won’t have an integrated display of any kind, but The Verge speculated that they could be similar to Snap Spectacles or Amazon’s Echo Frames, and represent a step on the journey toward fully fledged augmented reality glasses.

There you have it. Project Aria is a research programme designed to explore how Facebook will bring augmented reality glasses to market.

Facebook has attracted significant criticism for a number of reasons over the past few years, but it’s refreshing to see the company be so open about this particular area of technological development.

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Main image: Project Aria glasses

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