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Facebook Wrist Device Aims to Permit Control of Virtual Objects

This file photo shows a research prototype model of a wristband device developed by Facebook to be used with its augmented reality glasses. (Photo Credit: Facebook)
Facebook Wrist Device Aims to Permit Control of Virtual Objects
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Facebook says it is developing a device that would permit users to use their hand to control virtual objects.

The device, worn on the wrist, is designed to work with glasses to create an augmented reality, or AR, experience. AR is a technology that uses glasses to project computer-created images onto a user’s view of the real world.

Facebook recently described its device in a report on its website. The social media service said the technology would permit users to enter virtual worlds, where they could control different objects simply with finger movements.

The AR system is expected to “transform the way we connect with people near and far” in the future, Facebook said.

“Imagine being able to teleport anywhere in the world to have shared experiences with the people who matter most in your life -- no matter where they happen to be,” said Andrew Bosworth. He is the head of Facebook’s Reality Labs.

In the past, Facebook has mostly centered its AR development on improving gaming experiences. Now, it is aiming to expand the technology to be used in more everyday ways.

With this goal in mind, Facebook said one of the most important considerations was to find the right kind of device to control the AR glasses. It would have to be easy to use, wearable, always available and powerful enough to perform complex actions. The company decided a wristband would be the best choice.

The device will use a technology known as electromyography, or EMG, to translate complex hand movements. EMG measures electrical activity in muscles when they move.

Sensors will “translate electrical motor nerve signals that travel through the wrist to the hand into digital commands that you can use to control the functions of a device,” Facebook said.

These signals -- which start in the brain and travel through the wrist -- are so clear that EMG can understand finger movements as small as one millimeter, the company said. It added that in the future, “it may even be possible to sense just the intention to move a finger.”

Facebook shared pictures and video of experiments it carried out with a research model of the wristband. One video splits the view to show a virtual hand copying the movements of a real hand that is wearing the wristband. The hand appears to control a moving piece in a projected virtual world.

Another video shows a demonstration in which a person wearing the wristband uses fingers to type on a surface without the need for a keyboard. Facebook said this kind of virtual keyboard could actually learn an individual’s way of typing and make changes to fit it.

Another use of the wristband could permit users to click on controls that only exist virtually. The goal is to create “computing experiences where the human is the absolute center of the entire experience,” Facebook said.

Industry experts see Facebook’s product plans as progress in the race among major technology companies to develop AR glasses. Companies including Google, Apple and Amazon have suggested such technology could someday replace smartphones.

Facebook said earlier that smart glasses would need to depend on devices like phones because of limitations on electric power and the heat produced during use. A wristband could help support those computing needs.

In September, Facebook said it was about five to 10 years away from being able to bring to market “true” AR glasses that would permit users to interact with shared virtual objects.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for Learning English, based on reports from Facebook, Reuters and Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

virtualadj. taking place online or through computers instead of happening physically

project – v. to show an image of a wall or screen

transform – v. to change something completely, usually to improve it

teleport – v. to travel by an imaginary fast form or transportation using special technology or special powers

translate – v. to change words from one language into another language

function – n. the way in which something works or operates

intention – n. something a person plans to do

absolute – adj. very great or to the largest degree possible

interact – v. to communicate with or react to