On March 18, 2021, social media giant Facebook’s tech arm, Technology at Facebook, revealed some nearer-term research that Facebook Reality Labs has done on their augmented reality projects. They have been able to develop a wrist-mounted device that when combined with artificial intelligence, will adapt to you and your surroundings to give you a more immersive AR experience. This Facebook wrist controller is touted as the future of AR.
Technology at Facebook took to their blog to explain how the Facebook wrist controller will work, and frankly, it sounds like something that was taken straight out of a science fiction movie. In their post, Facebook explained that the wrist-based device would be equipped with a battery, antennas, and sensors that will allow it to pick up and interpret signals from the brain and course it down to your wrist and hand. The Facebook wrist controller will allow for “intuitive digital commands”, which could then be used to control an external AR device.
If you think about it, how we interact with digital devices is still pretty primitive. Technology has indeed propelled us forward and has given us thousands of tools at our disposal, but breakthroughs in the technology for the human-machine interface have been pretty rare. In the case of augmented reality, previous technologies and approaches will no longer work.
It would be difficult to utilize AR technology to its fullest potential when you are encumbered with operating other devices that would be needed to control it. For example, when you play with a gaming console, you still need a controller to navigate your game. While it may not seem like a big deal, having to rely on an external device would make AR technology less functional than it can be. For augmented reality technology to work, it needs to be as precise as possible and function as quickly as your thought process unfolds. That is where the Facebook wrist controller steps in.
The team at Facebook Reality Labs has been hard at work in programming the Facebook wrist controller to pick up on neural signals as they flow from a person’s brain to their arm. The goal is for the wrist controller to pick up on even the slightest signal, so the neural impulses can work on a person’s intention to develop into a command.
So, why did they choose the wrist of all places? Apart from being a convenient place to mount a neuro-based device, the wrist is where your skills are found. According to Facebook Reality Lab’s Director of Neuromotor Interfaces, TR Reardon, they selected the wrist because it has “a huge reservoir of untapped talent” which would be useful when controlling an AR device, especially since the brain dedicates more neurons to the wrist than it does for any other part of your body.
For the time being, the Facebook wrist controller is still a lab prototype, and it looks very much like a clunky watch. However, do not be fooled by its appearance. The device is already able to detect and analyze neural activity at such a powerful level that it can even pick up “millimeter-level deflections” with just one small move.
In the future, each user would need to program the Facebook wrist controller’s system to their exact specifications, so the whole experience would be personalized for everyone. Facebook says they will be revealing more about their work in the months to come.
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