The public announcement for Facebook's long-awaited, long-assumed, (and long-dreaded, depending on how you look at it) research project into wearable augmented reality (AR) tech is finally here: Say hello to Project Aria. And if the social media giant's smartglasses live up to half the promises delivered during today's announcement, consumers can expect some truly incredible, potentially revolutionary changes within the market in the years ahead... coming courtesy of everyone's favorite Big Tech villain.
Testing starts soon — Prototypes of Project Aria will soon be rolled out to some Facebook employees to test out around the company's campus. These devices are not AR smartglasses, but rather a "sensor array" for those future offerings. Project Aria will also rely on Facebook's reality mapping tech, Live Maps, which was announced at last year's conference and is key to the company's spatial computing for its future AR products.
As such, Facebook representatives were quick to note that the tech still has a ways to go before any real products could be revealed to the public. Andrew Bosworth, Head of Facebook Reality Labs, called the test glasses a "precursor to working AR," which is still, realistically, quite a long way down the road for consumers. With the numerous challenges Google Glass faced — and it's eventual shelving — Facebook will want to tread carefully before making Project Aria devices commercially available.
All you have to do is trust... Facebook — Of course, the major immediate issue, even during the public testing phase, is privacy. Facebook promises a responsible use of the troves of data gathered via these Project Aria devices, including things like blurring public facial images and scrubbing license plates... but c'mon.
This is Facebook we're talking about here: The company which, just yesterday, had a whistleblower report released detailing extensive global election interference. And then there's, you know, literally everything else wrong with the company.
"We're gonna do this together, and it's gonna be amazing," a Project Aria research staffer declares in Facebook's promo video. It sounds more like a command than a suggestion.
First up are Ray-Ban smart glasses — Project Aria comes on the heels of today's earlier and separate announcement that Facebook is partnering with another worrisome brand and monopolist, Luxottica, the sunglasses company behind pretty much every big name in eyewear, including Ray-Ban, Tom Ford, Oakley, and Persol, to deliver wearable smart glasses to consumers sometime next year. Ray-Ban will be the first Luxottica brand to offer Facebook's eyewear, and while it's glasses will fall far short of Project Aria's end goals (they're expected to be more like Snapchat's Spectacles than Microsoft's HoloLens), they'll likely still pave the way for truly immerse, AR eyewear in the near-ish future.