Facebook Launches Research into Future of Wearable AR

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MENLO PARK, Calif.—In conjunction with Facebook’s announcement last week that it is collaborating with EssilorLuxottica on the development of smart glasses, the social network unveiled Project Aria, a new research project under the direction of its Facebook Reality Labs division that will help in the development of its first generation of wearable augmented reality devices. In a post on its website, Facebook described Project Aria as “a research device that will help us understand how to build the software and hardware necessary for AR glasses.

"The Project Aria glasses are not a consumer product, nor are they a prototype. They won’t display any information on the inside of the lens, and research participants cannot view or listen to the raw data captured by the device. As a research device, the glasses will use sensors to capture video and audio from the wearer’s point of view, as well as eye movement and location data to help our engineers and programmers figure out how AR can work in practice. The glasses will encrypt, compress, and store data until it’s uploaded to our separate, designated back-end storage systems.”

Facebook emphasized that Project Aria was designed as a way to help the company develop “the safeguards, policies, and even social norms necessary to govern the use of AR glasses and future wearable devices.” To accomplish that, Facebook is gathering feedback both from people wearing the device and from people who encounter other people wearing the device in public.

To better understand how Facebook’s AR technology can benefit people with varying physical abilities, it has launched a pilot program with Carnegie Mellon University’s Cognitive Assistance Laboratory to build 3D maps of museums and airports that will have multiple applications, including helping people with visual impairments better navigate their surroundings. The data collected as part of this research will be stored by CMU.

Facebook said it will not be releasing the device to the general public, and it won’t be for sale. Starting this month, it will be made available to a limited group of Facebook employees and contractors in the U.S. The test subjects will be trained in both where and when to use the device, and where and when not to, according to Facebook.

The data gathered from the tests will include head-tracking, eye-tracking, and audio algorithms, Facebook said. Project Aria will also provide the first-person perspective data necessary to build LiveMaps, the virtual 3D map needed to fulfill the potential of AR and train a personalized assistant that can one day help people sense and understand the world.

“Because this initial dataset has to be relevant for as many people as possible, we’ll be asking people of diverse genders, heights, body types, ethnicities, and abilities to participate in the research program,” Facebook added.