It unveiled a new consumer wearable at Facebook's first major event since moving away from the Oculus brand and rebranding its AR and VR activities as "Facebook Reality Labs," and plunged into its ongoing research into augmented reality devices.
Mark Zuckerberg revealed at the fittingly virtual event that next year Facebook will launch "the next step on the road to augmented reality glasses," a pair of smart glasses that fall short of AR capabilities.
Zuckerberg also revealed that the luxury eyewear giant Luxottica would be added to Facebook, and the upcoming consumer device will be marketed by Ray-Ban. Zuckerberg suggested that the relationship with Luxottica would help to accommodate a variety of styles and expectations that individuals may have for the devices.
"Today, we don't have a product to share with you, but I'm excited to share that we have formed a multi-year partnership beginning next year with the construction and release of our first pair of smart glasses," said Zuckerberg. The company offered little details about what features the glasses would and would not have, while TechCrunch stated that it would not have a display. The result, first published in 2016, is likely to be less like Google Glass and more along the lines of Snapchat's Spectacles.
Facebook is trucking along on the research side in its quest to build wearable AR glasses that will combine with its own applications. The company announced in 2018 that it was finally creating its own proper augmented reality glasses. "We want to see these glasses come true, and I think we want to play our part in helping them get there," Ficus Kirkpatrick, head of augmented reality at Facebook, told TechCrunch at the time.
A handful of "specially trained" Facebook staff and contract employees will be wearing high-tech glasses around campus beginning this month to test wearable testing devices in real-world conditions. That effort is part of Project Aria, Facebook Reality Labs' AR research initiative for the company.
Facebook demonstrated some potential uses for AR glasses in a created video that was not a demo of the product but was intended to demonstrate important research: having an overlay of street directions, music suggestions in a record store or even a visual warning showing you where your missing keys went.
These testers will assist Facebook to understand items in the laboratory that it can not find out, such as what sensors need to go through the hardware and what kind of information the glasses should and should not gather.
Despite its own privacy scandals, Facebook seems to closely recall Google Glass's turbulent early days, an ahead-of-its-time product with a launch marred by user privacy fears over the built-in camera of the device.
Facebook Reality Labs head Andrew Bosworth immediately emphasized that Facebook would undergo rigorous testing long before any user AR product goes on sale. Bosworth noted that it is not a working prototype for a test version of Project Aria glasses, calling it a 'precursor to working AR' that doesn't have a functional heads-up display.