Facebook is reportedly dumping resources into developing nifty new augmented reality hardware — but don’t put money on seeing its products anytime super soon.
Business Insider’s Rob Price has revealed in a report published yesterday that Facebook shifted hundreds of its employees from its research outfit Facebook Reality Labs over to a team — led by Michael Abrash and Andrew “Boz” Bosworth — that will specifically focus on work on AR hardware, including Facebook’s anticipated AR spectacles.
The company declined a request for comment about specifically how many employees had been or continue to be shifted to this new team, but Facebook spokesperson Tera Randall told Business Insider that it was in the ballpark of “a few hundred people” and that the company planned to expand both teams this year.
Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg has for years said that AR glasses were a priority for the company, but Facebook has consistently reiterated its intention of taking its time to get it right. Zuckerberg told Recode in April of 2017 that “everyone would basically agree that we do not have the science or technology today to build the AR glasses that we want”, but that such technology may exist in “five years, or seven years, or something like that”.
It is true that we have yet to see a good version of this technology. But while we may be a while out from seeing Facebook’s own vision for AR eyewear fully realised, Price spoke with a source who claimed to have handled a prototype of the company’s glasses.
The description by Price’s source appears to track with early mock-ups of how Facebook envisioned its AR glasses would look aesthetically:
The source, who had tried on a prototype of the glasses, said it resembled traditional glasses much more closely than the bulky AR headsets offered by Microsoft (the HoloLens) or Magic Leap: “They look like really high-end glasses … it’s light enough to not feel heavy on your face, and it wasn’t light enough to feel like you could just sit down and break them.”
Ficus Kirkpatrick, who oversees Facebook’s AR and VR software, told TechCrunch during its AR/VR event in October that “the glasses that we dream of are quite a ways away”, but noted that Facebook wanted “to see those glasses come into reality, and I think we want to play our part in helping to bring them there”.
While Price’s source said the glasses could potentially see a launch around 2022 after push-backs, Randall told him that his “intel on release dates is wrong” and that the company was currently working on multiple AR products that may not even ever see official launches.
When asked about a potential release timeline for its AR glasses, Randall told Gizmodo by email that “this is still a very long term project for us and is on our 10-year roadmap”.