Virtual reality (VR) might be Facebook’s main commercial focus when it comes to immersive technology at the moment but the company is heavily investing in an augmented reality (AR) future. Today, Facebook Reality Labs (FRL) has given another teasing look into its vision, which revolves around a contextually-aware, AI-powered interface for its AR glasses.
AR presents multiple challenges when it comes to hardware, software and how we interact with it all. That latter topic poses some of the most interesting problems because unlike hardware which is trying to become more compact and lightweight, interaction in AR could make or break it.
“In order for AR to become truly ubiquitous, you need low-friction, always-available technology that’s so intuitive to use that it becomes an extension of your body,” says FRL’s Chief Scientist Michael Abrash in a recent blog post. “That’s a far cry from where HCI (Human-Computer Interaction) is today. So, like Engelbart (inventor of the computer mouse), we need to invent a completely new type of interface — one that places us at the centre of the computing experience.”
While some current tech can be employed, like hand tracking or voice assistants, if AR is to become widespread you may not want to talk out loud or have your hands in the air for any period of time. That’s where Facebook’s contextually-aware, AI-powered interface comes in, able to detect scenarios such as sending a call to voicemail if you’re having a conversation or offering a visual reminder when an appointment on your calendar nears.
This could work hand-in-hand with soft, wearable input systems like CTRL-Labs’ wristband – the company Facebook acquired in 2019 – where the AI would offer suggestions that you could say yes or no to. On the topic CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently noted: “I think neural interfaces are going to be fundamentally intertwined with VR and AR work in terms of how the input works as well.”
The AI-powered interface might be part of FRL’s 10-year vision but in the near term, Facebook will be launching its first pair of AR glasses this year in collaboration with Ray-Ban. The company also mentions that next week it’ll be unveiling more of its research to do with “wrist-based input combined with usable but limited contextualized AI,” followed later in the year by its work on all-day wearable devices and haptic gloves.
AR is only just beginning to get exciting. Devices like HoloLens 2 or Magic Leap One maybe chunky and expensive yet there’s plenty of work underway to improve the form factor. Qualcomm’s XR1 AR Smart Viewer Reference Design is a good example of this. How Facebook/Ray-Ban’s device will stack up remains to be seen. When it is finally revealed VRFocus will let you know.