Facebook wristband prototype could read neural signals transmitted to hands for AR interaction, but device raises host of privacy questions
Facebook has given a glimpse of a wristband that reads neural signals to give a new way for users to interact with its planned Augmented Reality (AR) glasses.
The wristband, currently in prototype, uses a technology called electromyography (EMG) to pick up on neural signals sent to the user’s hands to carry out an action, such as clicking, typing or holding a virtual bow in an archery simulator.
The device is intended to complement a pair of AR glasses that Facebook currently says it is intending to release later this year, overlaying digital imagery on the user’s view of the real world.
The simplest gesture it can read is a “click” performed by touching one’s index finger and thumb together.
Facebook’s Reality Labs envisages linking the device with the company’s planned AR glasses to create a system that can interact with what the user’s location and what they are seeing, creating associations with key objects around them.
For example, it could remember that when the user leaves the house wearing running shoes, they’ve often launched a particular music playlist.
The system could ask if the user wants to launch that playlist, which the user could confirm by tapping their fingers together in a virtual “click”.
“These more simple and feasible examples are ones that we’re exploring in our current research,” said Reality Labs research science manager Tanya Jonker.
Like a smartwatch, the wristband could be worn at all times, unlike a VR controller that has to be picked up and set down.
Because it reads nerve signals, it could eventually allow a user to type without a physical keyboard being present.
In theory, the user could activate the wristband simply by thinking about typing.
The device is intended to feature haptic feedback options, which could include a circle of inflatable bellows or vibrating actuators.
Competitors including Apple and Google are said to be working on similar AR glasses.
The system described by Facebook’s researchers is likely to raise privacy concerns, as it potentially represents a vast increase in the amount of a user’s data being processed by Facebook.
And EU regulators forced Google to place limits on the way it would use data collected by Fitbit smartwatches after it announced plans to buy Fitbit in late 2019, an acquisition that finally closed in January.
The US Justice Department, which is pursuing an antitrust action against Google over its search practices, said at the time that it would continue investigating the $2.1 billion (£1.5bn) deal.