Facebook is continuing its push toward delivering AR glasses and it’s showing some of its development out in the open; Project Aria is a sensor-rich pair of glasses which the company will use to train its AR perception systems and asses public perception of the technology.

Facebook is keenly aware of the backlash that faced Glass—Google’s early attempt at consumer smart glasses. The privacy implications that came with people walking around wearing a camera on their head were not lost on the public, some of which took to calling Glass users ‘Glassholes’.

By its nature, AR requires heaps of sensors to work. Cameras facing out to see the world, cameras facing in to see where your eyes are pointed, accelerometers to determine orientation, microphones to hear you speak, and plenty more. It’s like Google Glass times ten.

Project Aria is an AR headset prototype that Facebook is using for two things: gathering data for AI training and assessing the public’s perception & concerns of the technology.

As far as we know, Aria doesn’t have any displays, but it does have a full suite of the kind of sensors that will be used in a complete AR headset. It’s basically a pair of sensor-rich glasses that’s designed to soak up everything that it can see and hear. The data collected will be used to train AR perception systems that will allow AR glasses to understand the world around them in order to provide useful information to the user.

Facebook Wants to Build an AR Headset to Supercharge Your Hearing, Create a Custom HRTF from a Photograph

Another goal of Aria is to test the waters with public perception and uncover privacy and ethical obstacles.

“Ultimately, Project Aria is going to help us develop the safeguards, policies and even social norms necessary to govern the use of AR glasses and other future wearable devices,” Facebook says.

Starting this month, the company says, 100 or so employees will begin wearing the Aria glasses in their day-to-day lives, including in public. Facebook wants to be so ‘out in the open’ about its AR work that this first small batch of testers will be required to wear an identifying shirt and a lanyard to alert the public that the person is wearing the glasses and may be recording video and other data.

Image courtesy Facebook

Facebook claims they’re building privacy into Aria, and their future AR devices, from the start. The company is trying to assure people that it’s taking privacy concerns seriously, and even at this early stage is taking steps to protect data:

  • As with any mapping data, security of recorded data is paramount. Facebook will keep Project Aria data secure by using encryption and a secure ingestion system to upload the data from the device to Facebook back-end storage systems.
  • Facebook will securely store data and the maps that are derived from that data in a separate, designated storage space, accessible only to researchers with approved access.
    Once uploaded, captured data is kept under quarantine for three days, meaning it is not made available to researchers. During the quarantine period, participants can again choose to delete segments of captured data from the system by looking at low-resolution thumbnails.
  • Before any data gathered in a public place is made available to our researchers, it will be automatically scrubbed to blur faces and vehicle license plates.
  • The research glasses do not use facial recognition identification technology, and we don’t use this data to inform the ads people see across Facebook products.

Facebook says Aria is purely a research tool at this point and not a product that it will release to the public. Granted, it gives us a very firm idea of the form-factor the company is likely targeting for its AR glasses. Aria will help the company understand if the headset’s sensors are sufficient for tracking the headset and understanding the world around the user. Provided that all works out, the next step for the company would be fitting a display system inside.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • Patrick Hogenboom

    I don’t trust facebook promises on privacy, period.

    • Bob

      So if you were to replace all the words consisting of “Facebook” and replaced them with Google, would you have the same reaction? Would the internet be out with their pitchforks in the same fashion as it is now with Facebook?

      • asdf

        google provides valuable services past entertaining, like google maps that benefit us all TERMENDOUSLY. FB only has social media by which they benefit a shit ton financially off of your data and you only get social media crap and ads fed to you.

        Not to mention the privacy issues fb has had with data like Cambridge Analytica

        • Bob

          “google provides valuable services past entertaining, like google maps that benefit us all TERMENDOUSLY.”

          Sure but what free tool do you think people are using to communicate with on their smartphones? And what do you think they are using to share pictures with through the very same devices?

          Sure Facebook’s nefarious activities are known to the public but at least their true nature has been exposed. Google on the other hand are just as capable as Facebook of collecting information from you and selling it to the highest bidder without you knowing anything about it. In fact Google is by and large the same as Facebook except without the Facebook.

          • Hivemind9000

            Slightly different beasts though. Google collect data on what you search for, but unless you sign into them, it is generally anonymous. Facebook know who you are (your real identity), who you interact with, what you say, what you think, what groups you belong to (political or otherwise) and (through tracking partners) where you go on the internet. I have been “the buyer” of this information from both of them, through business advertising, and have implemented their tracking technologies. Google, by and large, have a greater reach but consumers are less targetable (due to that lack of real personal information). Facebook on the other hand is a lot more precise and targetable. They also capture way more of your attention, and can therefore manipulate what you see/read – essentially manipulating your reality. I think it is safe to say, don’t trust either of them, but if I had to choose, I would trust Google a long way before I would trust Facebook.

          • Jistuce

            Google usually just uses the creepy amounts of information they gather internally, rather than selling it to external vendors. That’s a big difference to me, though I distrust Google greatly as well.

      • Patrick Hogenboom

        Whataboutism rarely improves any discussion

        • Bob

          Or you don’t have anything constructive to say about the matter in order to start a discussion.

    • Trekkie

      You dont have a choice. Either you suck it up and use FBs offerings or make your own product. Making lots of noise from your armchair which you havent left in years seems to be the favourite hobby of lefty liberals. Strangely it is they who use FB in hordes. Hypocritical.

      • Patrick Hogenboom

        I don’t use facebook and gave away my CV1 (as former Oculus kickstarter backer)

        • Trekkie

          Then why are you here??

          • Patrick Hogenboom

            Because I certainly do have a choice, which is to vote with my wallet and buy an Index

  • dk
  • dk
  • kontis

    It’s so absurdly hilarious and ironic that it’s THE Facebook that actually will be manufacturing “smartglasses” without displays that cannot offer any kind of value to its user and all they do is collect data with various sensors.

    it’s like Zuck doesn’t even bother to pretend anymore.

    Yes, I know, it’s just for approved people to help with data not a real product, but still, the irony here is huge and they are also not just some very low-quantity 3D printed / hot glued prototypes, they will actually order production of them.

    • dk

      the 2017 movie The Circle ….comes to mind

    • xyzs

      If you are that good at magically create AR glasses, bring them to the market..

  • fuyou2

    Don’t trust anything Facebook says!.. Look what they said about Oculus, now you require a FB account!!

    • Ted Joseph

      Solution. Set up a Facebook account. I actually like Facebook, and use it daily,.

      • Nelson Tutorials

        You set a FB account, then after every move you make is monitorized recorded to be used by third parties, including your personal data. Good luck with that.

      • Jistuce

        Set up a facebook account, get banned six months later because they decide it looks fake, lose all your games.

        And how does your solution solve the “facebook can’t be trusted to keep their promises” problem?

  • Ted Joseph

    Bring it on! Cant wait for AR glasses that look like my daily reading or sunglasses…!!! GO FACEBOOK!