The glasses won’t have a display, but Facebook’s Project Aria research unit is working on true AR glasses.
Facebook says its first pair of consumer “smart glasses” will be releasing next year as a branded Ray-Ban product, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced during the opening keynote of its all-virtual Facebook Connect conference. It’s not clear what features the device will have, but Facebook has confirmed to The Verge that the device will not be classified as an AR device, and it will not have an integrated display of any kind. That suggests they may be closer to something like Snap Spectacles or perhaps Amazon’s Echo Frames.
Facebook says the consumer smart glasses will be one step in its overall work on AR, which now includes experimental research prototype it’s calling Project Aria, which is more like a full-fledged pair of AR glasses it sounds like. Starting this month, Facebook says the company will start testing Aria in the real world with Facebook employees and contractors to hammer out tough issues around areas like privacy, video recording, and design.
The company has talked for years about its plans to build AR devices that resemble a standard pair of glasses, and the company is now working with Ray-Ban maker EssilorLuxottica to design the frames of its first consumer smart glasses, confirming rumors last fall that the company had partnered with the Italian eyewear brand.
“We’re passionate about exploring devices that can give people better ways to connect with those closest to them. Wearables have the potential to do that. With EssilorLuxottica we have an equally ambitious partner who’ll lend their expertise and world-class brand catalogue to the first truly fashionable smart glasses,” Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s vice president of the Reality Labs division, said in a statement.
Beyond thrilled to finally share a sneak peek of our Facebook partnership with Ray-Ban! Our first smart glasses will launch next year, and that’s just the beginning… The future will be a classic and it's coming in 2021 😎 pic.twitter.com/l9992ZQGoy
— Hugo Barra (@hbarra) September 16, 2020
We don’t have any details on what Facebook’s eventual AR glasses will be called, what they look like beyond the Aria prototype, or how much they might cost (or for that matter how much the Ray-Ban designed smart glasses will cost).
But AR and smart glasses designed to look like standard pieces of eyewear have become more common in recent years, with companies like North (now owned by Google) and Nreal developing pretty impressive devices. Meanwhile, all the major tech giants — including Amazon, Apple, Google, Intel, and others — have either already released a device in the smart glasses or AR category, or are said to be actively working on something.
Facebook in recent months has been more transparent about the work coming out of Reality Labs, a group formed in 2018 to work on experimental projects like Facebook’s brain-interface project, futuristic AR glasses design, and other work that may influence product development at Oculus, the Portal videoconferencing team, and other groups.
The company earlier this year released white papers and prototype design images of what a hybrid AR-VR devices might look like in the future (potentially a version of Project Aria), and last year the Reality Labs division acquired neural interface startup CTRL-Labs.
Facebook also detailed a project at last year’s Oculus Connect conference it calls Live Maps, which the company says will be integral to help people use AR glasses in the real world by helping blend the virtual and real. That way, AR glasses can “download the most recent data from the 3D map, and then only have to detect changes — like new street names or the appearance of a new parking garage, and update the 3D map with those changes.”
Update September 16th, 2:03PM ET: Clarified that Facebook’s Ray-Ban partnership is for smart glasses without an integrated display, so closer to Snap Spectacles and similar devices and not classified as augmented reality.