- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Facebook said Wednesday that a group of its employees and contractors in the U.S. will soon begin testing Facebook’s wearable augmented reality devices.

Facebook Reality Labs has developed the AR devices, first fashioned as glasses, which will not be commercially available anytime soon.

“By wearing these devices as they go about their day, at home, on Facebook campuses (once they reopen), and in public, the data they gather will support the development of head-tracking, eye-tracking, and audio algorithms that will one day make the dream of AR glasses real,” Facebook announced on the company’s website.

Facebook’s dream for augmented reality involves such prospects as “a digital assistant smart enough to detect road hazards” and technology that would “help you hear better in a noisy environment.”

Eventually, according to the company’s announcement, people would become so accustomed to wearing Facebook devices that, “the device itself disappears into the ebb and flow of everyday life.”

“Of course, a lot of this is still the domain of science fiction,” Facebook said in its announcement. “To actually build glasses flexible enough to work for most face shapes and sizes, and create the software to support them, we still need several generations of breakthroughs, like systems to enhance audio and visual input, contextualized [artificial intelligence], and a lightweight frame to house it all. This kind of AR requires a foundational shift in computing technology that mirrors the leap from libraries and landlines to personal computers and smartphones.”

The first step toward making science fiction commercially available is Facebook’s testing of its Project Aria glasses. As it does the computational work to accomplish the technological breakthroughs it envisions, Facebook said it will partner with Carnegie Mellon University’s Cognitive Assistance Laboratory to build 3D maps of airports and museums that could make it easier for the visually impaired to navigate real-world environments.

The first batch of Project Aria participants will include approximately 100 employees and contractors spread between Facebook’s San Francisco and Seattle campuses. The participants will record while wearing the devices in Facebook offices, public spaces, and in their private homes, but Facebook says they will not record in other venues and certainly would get consent first if they did so.

“Recording is never permitted in sensitive areas like restrooms, prayer rooms, locker rooms, or in sensitive meetings and other private situations — and it is only allowed in the homes of wearers with consent from all members of the household,” Facebook said.

If all goes as planned, Facebook’s future augmented reality software developments could eliminate the need for different types of hardware altogether.

“We’re also exploring how the device’s head-tracking sensors can be used to add virtual objects to physical environments,” Facebook said. “So instead of owning a physical TV, you could conjure one up, place it virtually anywhere you’d like, and the image would stay fixed, even as you moved around.”

Rather than focus on potential problems or the unintended consequences of such equipment, Facebook wrote that it chooses to take an optimistic outlook where the world is “defined by passions, not geography or circumstance.”

Previous Facebook ventures that have formerly been governed by entities with a fixed geography include Facebook’s attempt to develop a currency. Facebook has explored the creation of a digital cryptocurrency, Libra, that would be governed by a nonprofit organization. Similarly, Facebook has sought to assemble an oversight board as a limited liability company with responsibility for content enforcement and governance on its platform.

With an estimated 2.7 billion monthly active users, Facebook’s user base now stands larger than the world’s most populous nations.

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