Virtual reality glasses, such as Facebook’s Occulus, aren’t simply expensive toys. VR devices likely represent the future of computing, or at least a big chunk of that future. That’s why Facebook intends to get ahead of the game by developing a wearable that makes computing as easy as a flick of the wrist.
Still in early development, Facebook’s device looks a lot like a smartwatch. Like a smartwatch, it senses biosignals when worn on the wrist. However, instead of heart rate or body temperature, the device detects electric pulses as they travel down the arm from the brain when a user intends to move their fingers.
Like other brain-computer interfaces — such as this gaming mouse we covered during CES 2021 — Facebook’s wearable taps into the gap between the brain’s motor cortex and the part of the body the user intends to move. The motor cortex plans and executes the signal to move; as that signal travels through the arm’s nerves, muscle contraction generates electric pulses. The wearable uses AI algorithms to analyze those pulses; based on that analysis, the system predicts the intended movement.
An extra point of interest regarding Facebook’s device is its built-in haptics, which generate nerve signals that the brain interprets as sensation. The device can already give the wearer the feeling of drawing back an arrow strung on a bow.
Currently, the wearable allows a user to type without a keyboard, successfully transmitting each letter to a computer screen. But Facebook thinks they’re onto something. The company sees the wearable eventually transforming the way we navigate information, able to control a myriad of devices, and ultimately make VR glasses something we wear, well, basically all the time.
The wristband’s technology, known as electromyography (EMG), could eliminate the need for a smartphone or controller when using a VR device. In theory, tomorrow’s Occulus will display computer menus, software, the internet, or games as an overlay on the real world. Imagine scrolling a translucent Facebook feed nestled between the windows of your eco-condo while sheer white curtains billow in the afternoon breeze.
Even Facebook admits there’s a long road from now to this idyllic yet very plugged in vision of the future. In light of past failures, that vision will certainly raise privacy concerns; Facebook gets that too, stating on its tech website that the company is “taking concrete steps to discuss important neuroethical questions in tandem with technology development.” Presumably, Facebook is already saving for the marketing budget needed to convince the world it really can be trusted. However, the success of Occulus indicates the public may be willing to forgive and forget.
Health tech, wearables, and medical devices stand to benefit from solid EMG technology. Facebook’s haptic option could also have benefits for prosthetics and people living with limb paralysis.