Facebook has sported a new concept-proof virtual reality headset and has a completely different design than most other VR devices on the market today. Instead of a bulky contraption that covers the upper half of the face and needs to be tied to the head, this concept-proof headset looks a bit like a pair of large sunglasses that can fit comfortably on the ears.
Yet Facebook is billing this new device as not a pair of augmented reality glasses, as common concepts of AR devices do, but a legitimate VR product. They are very thin, with a display thickness of less than 9 mm and Facebook claims to have a field of view “comparable to today̵
Concept-proof glasses are not only thin in appearance, but apparently they also transmit images to your eyes in a different way than the standard VR headphones on the market today. I’ll let the Facebook research team explain one of these techniques, called “holographic optics:”
Most VR displays share a common viewing perspective: a simple refractive lens consisting of a thick, curved or glass or plastic piece. We propose to replace this bulky element with holographic optics. You may be familiar with the holographic images seen in a science museum or on your credit card, which look three-dimensional with realistic depth inside or outside the page. Like these holographic images, our holographic optics record the interaction of laser light with objects, but in this case the object is a lens rather than a 3D scene. The result is a drastic reduction in thickness and weight: the holographic optic bends the light like a lens but looks like a thin and transparent adhesive.
The proof-of-concept headset also uses a technique that Facebook calls “polarization-based optical bending” to help reduce the amount of space between the actual display and the lens that focuses the image. With polarization-based optical bending, “the light can be controlled to move both forward and backward within the lens so that this empty space can be crossed multiple times, causing it to collapse at a fraction of the original volume” .
This Facebook GIF helps you visualize how both techniques work together:
These glasses are only a proof of concept, so it is not clear if they will ever come on the market. “While aiming for the future development of lightweight, comfortable and high-performance AR / VR technology, our work is currently purely research,” writes the Facebook research team in his blog post.
Many companies are hovering around the idea of glasses-like AR / VR headsets that combine the best of both technologies into one device, but usually turns into a larger headset focused on virtual reality that uses cameras facing the external to perform even light AR. Intel and Microsoft, which both use the mixed reality phrase to describe devices like HoloLens, have invested in this idea for some time.
But now many companies are working behind the scenes to turn a smaller, truly hybrid device into reality. Apple has reportedly worked on something like this for years and Google has just purchased the eyewear company AR North, an acquisition that could allow the company to revive its dream of a Google Glass-style heads-up display.
Although we can’t be sure that any of the tech giants will release combined AR / VR glasses, Facebook’s test demonstration that it could show off could take a look at what such a device might look like in the future.
Check out this white paper by Andrew Maimone and Junren Wang from the Facebook Reality Labs team if you want to learn more about demonstrating the Facebook concept.