Facebook has unveiled its mind-reading wrist device and an augmented reality keyboard that would allow users to replace the mouse and keyboard in future hardware products.
The company’s Facebook Reality Labs division showed off the prototype technologies on a virtual call with members of the media this week. Executives from the division talked about the technologies while videos of the projects were played for the audience.
The wrist device is capable of reading neurological signals sent from a users’ brain down to their hands. It could theoretically read these signals to get a sense of what a user wants to do and replicate the action in a virtual or augmented reality environment.
“You actually have more of your brain dedicated to controlling your wrist than any other part of your body, probably twice as many neurons controlling your wrist and the movement of your hands than is actually dedicated to your mouth for feeding and for speech,” said TR Reardon, director of research science at Facebook Reality Labs.
The Facebook researchers demonstrated “force” actions where a user could pinch with their fingers in real life to hold and control virtual, far-away objects in augmented reality. The name of the action is a reference to the Star Wars franchise where certain characters can use the Force to control and move people or objects that are far away from them.
Additionally, the company demonstrated electromyography wristbands that users could wear to type on any surface as though they were typing on a physical keyboard. Though there’s no keyboard, the EMG wristbands would register the intentions of a user’s finger strokes and jot down the letters and words.
Facebook’s development of these technologies comes as the company prepares to release its first smart-glasses later this year. That device will be Ray-Ban glasses and will be released in partnership with Luxottica.
Unlike smartphones, which rely on touchscreens, or Oculus virtual reality headsets, which rely on handheld controllers, there’s no current obvious input mechanism for smart glasses. That is why Facebook is working on these projects.
Asked how soon these technologies may make their way to the public, Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer said they are in the early stages of development.
“It’s hard to predict their timeline,” Schroepfer. “How these things sequence out in the market, when they show up — are things I don’t have crisp answers to. What we’re focused on is hardening these technologies.”