Update: Facebook/Meta seems to be taking smart glasses seriously with a new report claiming its own standalone AR glasses will arrive in 2024
Facebook is reportedly working on a pair of AR smart glasses to challenge the rumored Apple Glass frames, and it could steal a feature from Apple's iPhone 12 playbook in the process.
According to a patent spotted by Patently Mobile (via TechRadar) ,Facebook has been toying with new augmented reality technology. The patent appears to show a kind of Time of Flight (ToF) sensor not all that different from the 3D-sensing LiDAR one we expect to see embedded in the iPhone 12's camera array.
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Apple's LiDAR sensor — the brand's marketed name for ToF — uses a laser's photon speeds to measure distance. As seen in our iPad Pro 2020 review, the sensor is capable of factoring depth and range into the production of mixed reality imaging.
The result is accurate AR graphic art positioned through your lens in a way that blends into the environment captured by your camera. Rather than have an image default to appearing front-and-center in your setting like in Pokemon Go, the ToF sensor could place it behind a chair or other objects in proportion to the space.
Mixed reality glasses will need to refine this feature in order to feel real to our eyes, and Facebook's might try to do it better than Apple's LiDAR with a proprietary system.
The patent shows smart lenses with a camera embedded in the top corner the frame and a collection of waveguides on the lens above the rectangular display. The waveguides are used for "generating phase-shifted interference patterns for near-eye depth sensing," answering the challenges created for ToF in close contexts.
The USPTO granted the patent in March, but that doesn't mean Facebook's smart glasses on as near a horizon as Apple Glass might be. One Apple Glass rumor suggests it could be announced as soon as next year, and launch in early 2022.
According to Patently Mobile, Facebook said upon announcing a deal with Plessey, that it plans to create a “glasses form factor that lets devices melt away so we can be more present with our friends, families and surroundings” and that the lenses will take "years" to complete.