Facebook has joined forces with world optics leader EssilorLuxottica, the partnership's first goal being the launch of Ray-Ban smart glasses in 2021.
The alliance is part of a broader project Facebook is working on. The US group is keen to create stylish eyeglasses which also provide wearers with data and graphics on their surroundings, displayed within their field of vision, said Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday.
Smart Ray-Bans “will be our first step on the road towards augmented-reality glasses, and they’ll be rather stylish,” said Zuckerberg, speaking at a conference on the latest innovations by the group's virtual reality platform Oculus.
The partnership will “combine Facebook's apps and technology with Luxottica’s industry leadership and iconic brands and Essilor’s expertise in ophthalmic lenses, to help consumers stay better connected with their friends and families,” said EssilorLuxottica in a separate press release.
Details about technical specifications were not disclosed, since the engineers working on ‘Project Aria’ are still going through the testing phase. “There is still a great deal of work to do on some of the key technologies,” said Zuckerberg.
Among the technical challenges, the development of sensors and of the features enabling software and cameras to chart in real time what the glasses’ wearer is seeing, in order to superimpose virtual images on this.
“Imagine a pair of glasses that provides a host of supplementary 3D information that is useful and relevant depending on [the wearer’s] context, in addition to what the eyes are observing,” said Facebook in a presentation of the new project, adding that “such a tool could help us accomplish daily tasks like finding our house keys, traveling around an unfamiliar city, or recording a special moment. But it could also promote a whole new way of moving around in the world.”
Facebook is regularly criticized for failing to protect its users’ privacy and underlined that the latter element is one of the project's priorities.
The group seems to be keen to avoid the criticism that surrounded the launch of Google Glasses in 2013. These were notably controversial because their photo and video cameras could film and take pictures surreptitiously.
Google eventually dropped plans to put the product on the market, before launching connected glasses for professional use in 2017.
Wearers of the first prototypes of Facebook glasses will only be authorized to record images at Facebook's offices, in their own homes, and in public areas, but not inside venues like for example stores or restaurants, without the venues’ written consent.
On Wednesday, Zuckerberg also presented the second generation of Oculus Quest VR headsets, a lighter, more powerful version. At $299.99, the new version’s starting price in the USA is cheaper than the previous version's.