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Facebook confirms it’s building augmented reality glasses – TechCrunch

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“Yeah! Well of course we’re working on it,” Facebook’s head of augmented reality Ficus Kirkpatrick told me when I asked him at TechCrunch’s AR/VR event in LA if Facebook was building AR glasses. “We are building hardware products. We’re going forward on this . . . We want to see those glasses come into reality, and I think we want to play our part in helping to bring them there.”

This is the clearest confirmation we’ve received yet from Facebook about its plans for AR glasses. The product could be Facebook’s opportunity to own a mainstream computing device on which its software could run after a decade of being beholden to smartphones built, controlled and taxed by Apple and Google.

This month, Facebook launched its first self-branded gadget out of its Building 8 lab, the Portal smart display, and now it’s revving up hardware efforts. For AR, Kirkpatrick told me, “We have no product to announce right now. But we have a lot of very talented people doing really, really compelling cutting-edge research that we hope plays a part in the future of headsets.”

There’s a war brewing here. AR startups like Magic Leap and Thalmic Labs are starting to release their first headsets and glasses. Microsoft is considered a leader thanks to its early HoloLens product, while Google Glass is still being developed for the enterprise. And Apple has acquired AR hardware developers like Akonia Holographics and Vrvana to accelerate development of its own headsets.

Mark Zuckerberg said at F8 2017 that AR glasses were 5 to 7 years away

Technological progress and competition seems to have sped up Facebook’s timetable. Back in April 2017, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, “We all know where we want this to get eventually, we want glasses,” but explained that “we do not have the science or technology today to build the AR glasses that we want. We may in five years, or seven years.” He explained that “We can’t build the AR product that we want today, so building VR is the path to getting to those AR glasses.” The company’s Oculus division had talked extensively about the potential of AR glasses, yet similarly characterized them as far off.

But a few months later, a Facebook patent application for AR glasses was spotted by Business Insider that detailed using “waveguide display with two-dimensional scanner” to project media onto the lenses. Cheddar’s Alex Heath reports that Facebook is working on Project Sequoia that uses projectors to display AR experiences on top of physical objects like a chess board on a table or a person’s likeness on something for teleconferencing. These indicate Facebook was moving past AR research.

Facebook AR glasses patent application

Last month, The Information spotted four Facebook job listings seeking engineers with experience building custom AR computer chips to join the Facebook Reality Lab (formerly known as Oculus research). And a week later, Oculus’ Chief Scientist Michael Abrash briefly mentioned amidst a half-hour technical keynote at the company’s VR conference that “No off the shelf display technology is good enough for AR, so we had no choice but to develop a new display system. And that system also has the potential to bring VR to a different level.”

But Kirkpatrick clarified that he sees Facebook’s AR efforts not just as a mixed reality feature of VR headsets. “I don’t think we converge to one single device . . . I don’t think we’re going to end up in a Ready Player One future where everyone is just hanging out in VR all the time,” he tells me. “I think we’re still going to have the lives that we have today where you stay at home and you have maybe an escapist, immersive experience or you use VR to transport yourself somewhere else. But I think those things like the people you connect with, the things you’re doing, the state of your apps and everything needs to be carried and portable on-the-go with you as well, and I think that’s going to look more like how we think about AR.”

Oculus Chief Scientist Michael Abrash makes predictions about the future of AR and VR at the Oculus Connect 5 conference

Oculus virtual reality headsets and Facebook augmented reality glasses could share an underlying software layer, though, which might speed up engineering efforts while making the interface more familiar for users. “I think that all this stuff will converge in some way maybe at the software level,” Kirkpatrick said.

The problem for Facebook AR is that it may run into the same privacy concerns that people had about putting a Portal camera inside their homes. While VR headsets generate a fictional world, AR must collect data about your real-world surroundings. That could raise fears about Facebook surveilling not just our homes but everything we do, and using that data to power ad targeting and content recommendations. This brand tax haunts Facebook’s every move.

Startups with a cleaner slate like Magic Leap and giants with a better track record on privacy like Apple could have an easier time getting users to put a camera on their heads. Facebook would likely need a best-in-class gadget that does much that others can’t in order to convince people it deserves to augment their reality.

You can watch our full interview with Facebook’s director of camera and head of augmented reality engineering Ficus Kirkpatrick from our TechCrunch Sessions: AR/VR event in LA:

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Fitbits will soon lose the ability to sync with computers

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Enlarge / The Fitbit Ionic currently lets you download music to the device.

Valentina Palladino

Fitbit owners who like to sync their fitness tracker with a computer to enable offline listening of downloaded music without a monthly fee will soon need to change their approach.

As spotted by 9to5Google on Saturday, Fitbit will no longer allow users to sync their devices over a computer starting in October.

“On October 13, 2022, we’re removing the option to sync your Fitbit device with the Fitbit Connect app on your computer,” a Fitbit support page reads. “Download and use the Fitbit app on your phone to sync your device.”

The Fitbit Connect desktop software lets you transfer music from your computer to the wearable if you have a supporting watch. Newer devices, like the Fitbit Sense and Versa 3, cannot store downloaded music.

After October, owners of older Fitbits, like the Fitbit Versa and Versa 2, will also have to rely on subscriptions to not-so-popular services for offline music. “After the Fitbit Connect app on your computer is deactivated, you can continue to transfer music to your watch through the Deezer app. Customers in the United States can also use the Pandora app,” Fitbit’s support page says.

Deezer and Pandora both require monthly subscriptions for music downloading and offline listening, with fees starting at $10 per month after any eligible trial periods.

Remember, Fitbits still don’t let you add music you’ve downloaded through streaming services, though you can control music on your smartphone with a Fitbit.

The new limitation shouldn’t last forever. When Google acquired Fitbit in 2021, the fitness tracker company confirmed that Fitbits running Google’s Wear OS are on the way. Wear OS has offline support for subscribers to Spotify Premium and YouTube Music.

The death of the Fitbit Connect desktop app will mean that Fitbit wearers who have managed to avoid the brand’s mobile app have fewer options. An increasingly subscription-focused marketplace has been coming for a long time now. Fitbit Connect is still downloadable on Windows 10 and Mac OS X, but the company says the Fitbit app for iPhone and Android provides the “best experience.”

For now, you can still download and listen to music from your Fitbit; you just won’t be able to add more songs after October.

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Google hits back at Sonos with voice command patent lawsuit

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Enlarge / Sonos Beam soundbar.

Sonos

Google and Sonos are headed back to court. After Google lost an earlier patent case over speaker volume controls, Google is now suing Sonos over voice control technology. Google confirmed the lawsuit to The Verge this morning, with the company saying it wants to “defend our technology and challenge Sonos’s clear, continued infringement of our patents.” Google alleges infringement of seven patents related to voice input, including hot-word detection and a system that determines which speaker in a group should respond to voice commands.

Sonos has typically supported the Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa for voice control, but Google and Amazon are also Sonos’s biggest speaker competitors. So Sonos launched its own voice assistant feature in May, opening it up to this new pile of Google patents. (For now, Sonos supports all three options.)

Google rarely uses patents offensively, but this is part of a multi-lawsuit battle that has sent the company’s smart speaker line reeling after Google lost a previous ruling in January. Rather than pay royalties to Sonos, Google decided to reach into customers’ homes and start breaking devices they had already bought. Google stripped Nest Audio and Google Home speakers of the ability to control volume for a speaker group, turning what was an effortless and common-sense task into an ordeal requiring a screen full of individual sliders. It’s hard to overstate how annoying this is for consumers, as volume control is a primary function of any speaker.

Sonos originated the connected speaker concept, but it has been facing competition from Big Tech giants in recent years. Sonos says it gave Google an inside look at its operations in 2013 while Sonos was asking for Google Play Music support and that Google used that access to “blatantly and knowingly copy” Sonos’s technology. Google’s first smart speaker launched three years later.

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Rumors, delays, and early testing suggest Intel’s Arc GPUs are on shaky ground

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Enlarge / Arc is Intel’s attempt to shake up the GPU market.

Almost a year ago, Intel made a big announcement about its push into the dedicated graphics business. Intel Arc would be the brand name for a new batch of gaming GPUs, pushing far beyond the company’s previous efforts and competing directly with Nvidia’s GeForce and AMD’s Radeon GPUs.

Arc is the culmination of years of work, going back to at least 2017, when Intel poached AMD GPU architect Raja Koduri to run its own graphics division. And while Intel would be trying to break into an established and fiercely competitive market, it would benefit from the experience and gigantic install base that the company had cultivated with its integrated GPUs.

Intel sought to prove its commitment to Arc by showing off a years-long road map, with four separate named GPU architectures already in the pipeline. Sure, the GPUs wouldn’t compete with top-tier GeForce and Radeon cards, but they would address the crucial mainstream GPU market, and high-end cards would follow once the brand was more established.

All of that makes Arc a lot more serious than Larrabee, Intel’s last effort to break into the dedicated graphics market. Larrabee was canceled late in its development because of delays and disappointing performance, and Arc GPUs are actual things that you can buy (if only in a limited way, for now). But the challenges of entering the GPU market haven’t changed since the late 2000s. Breaking into a mature market is difficult, and experience with integrated GPUs isn’t always applicable to dedicated GPUs with more complex hardware and their own pool of memory.

Regardless of the company’s plans for future architectures, Arc’s launch has been messy. And while the company is making some efforts to own those problems, a combination of performance issues, timing, and financial pressures could threaten Arc’s future.

Early turbulence

A year after its announcement, it seems that Arc is already on shaky ground. Intel has proven characteristically incapable of meeting its initial launch estimates, just barely managing to pull off a paper launch of two low-end laptop GPUs in Q1 (the original launch window) and failing to follow up with widely available desktop cards in Q2. The company has been very public about its driver struggles with drivers, which are hurting the cards’ performance in older but still widely played games. And the graphics division is losing money at a time when revenue is tumbling across the company.

And that’s just what is happening in public. A report from the German-language Igor’s Lab claims that Intel’s board partners (the ones who would be putting the Arc GPU dies on boards, packaging them, and shipping them out) and the OEMs who would be putting Arc GPUs into their prebuilt computers are getting frustrated with the delays and lack of communication.

A long, conspiratorial video from YouTuber Moore’s Law is Dead goes even farther, suggesting (using a combination of “internal sources” and speculation) that people in Intel’s graphics division are “lying” to consumers and others in the company about the state of the GPUs, that the first-generation Alchemist architecture has fundamental performance-limiting flaws, and that Intel is having internal discussions about discontinuing Arc GPUs after the second-generation “Battlemage” architecture.

We’ve contacted Intel and several GPU manufacturers to see if they had anything to share on the matter; the short version is no—Intel has no news on release dates. Asus says it “[doesn’t] currently have anything in the pipeline for Intel Arc on the North America side,” and other companies haven’t responded yet. For his part, Intel graphics VP Raja Koduri has said publicly that “we are very much committed to our roadmap” and that there will be “more updates from us this quarter” and “four new product lines by the end of the year.”

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