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Facebook’s bold approach to augmented reality…

Facebook’s bold approach to augmented reality…
August 21, 2023

Facebook just made an interesting announcement. The social media giant is partnering with Luxottica, the parent company of Ray-Ban, to develop a pair of smart glasses. The first version of the product will be released later this year.  This is a smart move. And it is a big step toward Facebook’s goal of producing full-blown augmented reality (AR) glasses. I have long talked about how important it is for smart glasses and AR glasses to have normal form factor. 

Consumers will not adopt these products unless they are sleek, lightweight, and attractive.  That’s why partnering with a popular sunglasses brand like Ray-Ban makes a ton of sense. Ray-Ban has the expertise necessary to make sure the Facebook glasses don’t look geeky. And of course, it has great brand recognition and distribution channels all over the world as well.  Facebook didn’t release much in terms of product features. 

But the company did shed some light on its strategy to develop the best AR technology on the market. And no surprise, it is quite controversial with regard to privacy infringement.  Facebook employees and contractors are going to start wearing prototype smart glasses in public starting in September. This is for research. These glasses will capture video and audio that will be sent back to Facebook for analysis. They will track eye movements and location data, and they could be equipped with facial recognition technology. This is a bold move. Here’s what the “research” glasses look like:

There’s no question that gathering data like this will help Facebook improve its AR technology. It reminds me a little bit of Tesla’s strategy. Tesla improves its AI by collecting data from all its cars when they are driving on Autopilot. The difference here is that Facebook isn’t capturing data from the road. It is collecting video and audio from unsuspecting people out in public. 

Imagine sitting at our local coffee shop with a friend only to have our meeting recorded without our consent by someone with Facebook’s smart glasses. Now there’s a record of everything we said in what we thought was a private discussion.  Even worse, if the smart glasses are equipped with facial recognition, Facebook will know exactly who we are. And that’s true even if we don’t use Facebook’s products ourselves.  Obviously, this is something that should undergo a lot of scrutiny. I expect this will be a hot topic in regulatory circles as well.  That said, it is easy to see how this feature would be useful. 

Facebook’s AR glasses could ensure that users always know the names of everyone they encounter. When we look at someone, the glasses could display that person’s name right in our field of vision. And the glasses could even display pertinent information such as when we last saw that person, whether they have kids, and what their hobbies are. Yet nobody else would know that the glasses were feeding us this information. 

That’s an interesting dynamic.  So we’ll keep a close eye on Facebook and its augmented reality aspirations going forward. And let’s make sure we are on the lookout for anyone wearing these “research” glasses out in public.

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