Facebook is planning a neural interface which it will use as a way to control devices, like its own Facebook AR glasses. The system utilizes a system similar to that of prosthetics used by people with upper limb differences. Sensors in a wrist-worn band will detect impulses from the brain and can be recorded. These signals are very simple and Facebook refers to them as a “click” and detecting them is reasonably straightforward, at least at a basic level.
The idea is that you could use the motion of tapping your forefinger and thumb together as a way to confirm an action. You could perform this sort of task while you were doing almost anything else. It would work sitting, standing or lying down and it could be subtle enough to go unnoticed by other people. Facebook says this is the big advantage over voice, which is much less private.
As development advances the company claims that it could be activated without you even physically moving. With increased accuracy it might be possible to operate its AR (or other interfaces) at great speed. After all, typing uses impulses from your brain to activate muscles in your arm and fingers. It’s entirely possible you could type in a virtual environment with enough artificial intelligence and training.
Facebook isn’t the only company considering how to interact with virtual worlds. Apple is reported to be working on some next-level eye tracking tech for its rumored new Apple AR and VR headset. This is likely a more practical solution for now, and could be just as powerful if well designed.
The advantage a wrist-worn system offers is the option to produce a haptic response from actions you perform in the virtual world. Research includes looking at fitting eight pneumatic bellows in a wristband that can be used to simulate certain sensations or to signal events. Another design uses vibration and pressure to attempt to signal how stiff a button is, or to simulate different textures.
For obvious reasons Facebook points out in its blog post that this is not a way for it to read your mind. It’s not hard to connect Facebook with hideous privacy violations, for example. This is a company that tracks you everywhere you go, and wants literally everything to have a Facebook account. This sort of impulse detection devices are, as robotic prosthetics prove, not new and they certainly won’t be able to read your mind.
Facebook hopes to come to a consensus about how privacy impacts these technologies. It’s encouraging researchers to peer review their work and hopes that the community will help define what’s acceptable and what isn’t.