Facebook’s ‘smart glasses’ bring us closer to wearable AR in 2021

2021 is set to become a breakthrough year for the rollout of smart glasses and Facebook is at the front of the queue with its own wearable tech, though it’s not without a significant catch.

Frankly speaking, the future of wearable gadgets and real-world integration with augmented reality is easily top five on the list of most exciting developments in tech right now.

It’s also the worst kept secret in the industry that the biggest proprietors of modern tech are all working hard on developing their flagship versions of smart glasses, and Facebook is reportedly first in the queue to capitalise on what will inevitably become a booming market.

Facebook has had a knack for advancing AR tech in recent times. It’s provided constant updates to accessible filter builders like Spark AR, acquired Virtual Reality giant Oculus, and rolled out its impressive video-calling hub, Facebook Portal. Its latest venture – kick-starting a slew of smart AR glasses – seems rather fitting.

Before you get giddy and start scouring the web for pre-orders though, Facebook is already tempering expectations for the actual capabilities of what ‘in-the-knows’ describe as ‘AR wearables’ for 2021.

If you’re a buff for this sort of thing (like me), you’ll likely recall Facebook’s Project Aria announcement last September which talked up an ambitious pair of smart glasses that would be able to layer 3D information contextually over the real world. If you’re wondering what that would look like, the demo showed for instance that someone could find a pair of lost keys in a messy room by way of a pinpoint notification in the lens.

Here it is in action below.

Beyond this, demos and concept videos of AR wearables typically show 3D animations overlaying city streets with things like restaurant offers, arrows pointing out directions, and live safety warnings for pedestrians. What Facebook is tinkering with for 2021, however, isn’t that.

Developed in partnership with the creators of Ray-Ban, Luxottica, we know little today apart from the fact that Facebook’s upcoming smart glasses will not offer up a direct blend of the digital and physical world synonymous with AR. Aesthetically, the wearable certainly looks sharp and surprisingly unassuming, but in terms of integrated features hardware chief Andrew Bosworth has kept his shtum thus far.

‘These are certainly connected glasses, they are certainly providing a lot of functionality, [but] we’re being quite coy about which functionality precisely we are providing,’ Bosworth revealed an in interview with Bloomberg. ‘We’re excited about it but we don’t want to over-hype it. We’re not even calling it augmented reality, we’re just calling it smart glasses,’ he added.

Further comments repeatedly throw up key phrases like ‘convenience’ and ‘enhancing human presence’, giving strong hints as to the this wearable’s purpose for the coming year.

Like Snapchat’s Spectacles – which are essentially fashionable sunglasses that double as a hands free digital camera – it appears Facebook is focused on easier camera capabilities rather than overlaying digital assets over our normal eyesight, at least for now.

So there we have it, in the grand scheme of AR wearables you could say this is a bit of a dampener, though Facebook did suggest in 2017 that full AR integration likely wouldn’t be fully realised (or widely available) until around 2025. Truthfully, a full rollout of any form of smart glasses is big news regardless, and full integration could well come a few years down the line.

In the short term, it’s looking increasingly likely that we won’t be strolling out of lockdown in 2021 donning swanky AR glasses then, though we are expecting updates on Apple’s version (Apple Glass) any day now.

On that front, you can bet the relentless Apple machine is determined to zero in on the next gen of smart tech as it did with smartphones. Stay tuned.


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