What if you could talk through your skin? What if you had a mouse you could control with your brain?
These are just two of the mind-blowing questions Facebook’s Regina Dugan posed to the audience at the company’s F8 developer conference, and the vision she laid out was so ambitious you could almost feel the silent awe emanating from the F8 audience as spoke.
Dugan, a former DARPA director and ex-Googler from the search giant’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group, delivered on Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer’s earlier promise on day two of F8 to give us a peek at brain-computer interfaces.
No, Facebook didn’t unveil invasive brain plugs to link you to its growing virtual-reality metaverse, but the company did reveal some of its fascinating research that will serve as the underpinnings for computer interfaces of the future.
A basic demonstration of how wireless brain interfaces can work.
First, Dugan described a future in which we would use what she called a "brain mouse" that would one day allow us to control AR applications using a noninvasive brain interface. Specifically, Facebook is researching optical-imaging methods that will allow for the filtering for "quasi ballistic photons" (which retain greater resolution than "diffuse photons") that send wireless signals between your brain an a computer. The research group’s first goal is to use that method to create a 100 word per minute speech prosthetic for input for AR — a goal Dugan said was about three years away.
The other, even more mind-bending research she revealed had to do with a silent method of communication using tactile methods. And while Facebook didn’t have a product to announce, the team is far along enough in its research to show off a demonstration of the technology at work.
Using a system of actuators tuned to 16 different bands, the team demonstrated a tactile vocabulary of nine words. Through learning to "feel the acoustic shape" of a word on her arm, the research team member was able to accurately relay a set of commands silently sent to her through a separate computer interface.
Facebook tactile communicate research could be groundbreaking.
And the most exciting part about this development, according to Dugan, is that it could effectively serve as a universal translator, reducing words and concepts to tactile messages that would give, for example, a Chinese speaker the ability to speak to an English speaker, with both speakers using their native languages.
Of course, none of this is ready for to ship, but by showing off the different ways we will be able to communicate in Facebook’s vision of an AR future, with tangible research in hand, Facebook did a lot today to get everyone a little more excited about the possibilities inherent in AR.
But now the clock is officially ticking. After all that amazing vision and wonder, we’re all counting the days until we can send each other jokes, love notes, and groundbreaking technology keynotes, all without uttering a single word. In other words, Dugan will someday soon need to prove its exciting future technologies will work outside of Facebook’s Building 8.