Facebook wants your virtual interactions to be more like in-person experiences.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company is developing augmented reality smart glasses because no current technology can replicate “the holy grail of social experiences” that is feeling present with another person, in an episode of The Information’s 411 podcast this week.
“You have technology that allows you to communicate and that can with different fidelity help you see what’s going on with the other person,” Zuckerberg said on the podcast. “But there’s just something that’s really magical about the sense of presence and feeling like you’re there with another person and everything that goes into that psychologically.”
The company shared more details about the development of the futuristic product in a blog post, saying that “a lightweight, stylish pair of glasses could replace your need for a computer or smartphone.”
Zuckerberg told The Information that it could make it seem like people across the world are in the same room.
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"Rather than calling someone or having a video chat, you just kind of snap your fingers and teleport, and you’re sitting there and they’re on their couch and it feels like you’re there together," he said on the podcast.
The project is being developed by Facebook Reality Labs, the company's subsidiary previously known as Oculus Research. Facebook acquired Oculus as part of its $2.3 billion deal to buy the virtual reality tech company in 2014.
While Oculus sales of VR headsets and content have grown, the research unit has produced mixed results. In 2018, Facebook cut a virtual assistant from its Messenger app and efforts by Facebook Reality Labs to compete against Google Assistant or Apple's Siri have reportedly proven unfruitful.
Still, Facebook shared some big ideas for the smart glasses. It compared the potential of the future device to the changes in computer use made by the invention of the mouse.
The blog post detailed potential capabilities of the under-development glasses, such as allowing a wearer to put on special gloves to type on a virtual keyboard, mute background noise in a busy café or automatically send a call to voicemail while the wearer is engaged in an in-person conversation.
“You’d have the ability to feel physically present with friends and family — no matter where in the world they happened to be — and contextually-aware AI to help you navigate the world around you, as well as rich 3D virtual information within arm’s reach,” the company wrote in a blog post. “Best of all, they’d let you look up and stay present in the world around you rather than pulling your attention away to the periphery in the palm of your hand. This is a device that wouldn’t force you to choose between the real world and the digital world.”
Facebook first announced it was researching future wearable tech under “Project Aria” last September. The company didn’t say how far along development on the glasses has gotten, but it did highlight some of the hurdles facing its engineers.
The smart glasses will need to seamlessly do what the wearer wants and give them whatever information they want, according to the blog post. But they will also need to be “secure, private, unobtrusive, easy to learn, easy to use, comfortable/all-day wearable, effortless and reliable.”