Facebook reveals wrist-based hardware for augmented reality

The social network is working on a wearable prototype that uses haptic technology

A woman using Facebook's wrist controls for augmented reality

Facebook has unveiled a prototype for a wearable device that can be used as a control for augmented reality systems.

The device is still in development at Facebook's Reality Labs (FRL) - formally Oculus Research - and is part of its work to find alternative methods of 'human-computer interaction' (HCI).

The software used by the prototype is described by Facebook as "wrist-based input combined with usable but limited contextualised AI". It's a form of haptic technology where sensors measure electrical motor nerve signals that run up the wrist to the fingers. The device looks like a very bulky watch, presumably as it is housing lots of these sensors.

The idea is to develop an interface for augmented reality that doesn't involve touchscreens or physical keyboards, allowing users to better interact with and control the virtual layers created by a device.

"The future of HCI demands an exceptionally easy-to-use, reliable, and private interface that lets us remain completely present in the real world at all times," the company said in a blog post. "That interface will require many innovations in order to become the primary way we interact with the digital world."

The software has two critical elements that the FRL team is still developing. The first is 'contextually-aware AI', which is used to translate the commands and actions of a user based on the situation or environment they are in. The second is technology that allows for effortless communication with a system - this is an approach Facebook calls 'ultra-low-friction input'.

Facebook's chief technology officer, Mike Schroepfer, said the prototype has "amazing potential" for making devices more accessible. Schroepfer also shared two videos of the technology in action, with one highlighting both its 'low-friction input' and its contextual AI with a virtual keyboard.

The Hasso Plattner Institut (HPI) in Berlin has also conducted research into haptic technology for virtual and augmented reality. The institute developed a prototype in 2018 for Microsoft's HoloLens that integrated haptic force feedback by using electrical muscle stimulation.

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