Facebook showed a new proof-of-concept virtual reality helmet with a design that is completely different from most other VR devices on the market today. This proof-of-concept headset looks like a pair of large sunglasses that can be comfortably worn on your ears, rather than a clumsy device that covers the upper part of the face and must be tied to the head.
However, just like the common concept of AR devices, Facebook regards this new device as not a pair of augmented reality glasses, but a legal VR product. They are very thin, with a display thickness of less than 9 mm, and Facebook claims that their field of view “is comparable to today̵
However, proof-of-concept glasses are not only beautiful in appearance, but also project images to your eyes in a different way than the standard VR headsets on the market today. I will ask Facebook’s research team to explain a technique called “holographic optics”:
Most VR monitors share a common viewing mirror: a simple refractive lens, consisting of thick curved pieces or glass or plastic. We recommend replacing this bulky element with a holographic optical element. You may be familiar with the holographic images seen on the Science Museum or credit cards. These images appear to be three-dimensional, with realistic depth both inside and outside the page. Like these holographic images, our holographic optics is a record of the interaction between the laser and the object, but in this case, the object is a lens rather than a 3D scene. The result is a significant reduction in thickness and weight: the holographic optical mirror lens bends light, but looks like a thin transparent label.
The proof-of-concept headset also uses a technology Facebook calls “polarization-based optical folding” to help reduce the space between the actual display and the lens that focuses the image. Using polarization-based optical folding, “you can control the light to move back and forth inside the lens so that you can traverse this empty space multiple times and fold it to a small portion of the original volume.”
This GIF from Facebook helps to visualize how the two technologies work together:
However, these glasses are just proof-of-concept, so it is unclear whether they will be put on the market. The Facebook research team wrote in the blog: “Although it points to the future development of AR/VR technology that is light, comfortable and high-performance, our current work is only research.”
Many companies are circumventing the idea of AR/VR headsets like glasses, combining the essence of the two technologies into one device, but usually end up using headsets centered on larger VR, which The headset uses an outward-facing camera to perform light AR. Both Intel and Microsoft use mixed reality to describe devices such as HoloLens, and they have been investing in this for some time.
However, more and more companies are working behind the scenes to make smaller, true hybrid devices a reality. According to reports, Apple has been engaged in similar work for many years. Today, Google acquired AR glasses company North. This acquisition may reinvigorate the company’s dream of using Google Glass-style head-up displays for consumers.
Although we are not sure whether any technology giant will release AR/VR combination glasses, the proof-of-concept shown by Facebook may give you a glimpse of the future prospects of this device.
If you want to learn more about Facebook’s proof of concept, please check the white papers of Andrew Maimone and Junren Wang from the Facebook Reality Labs team.