Facebook just announced that its first smart glasses to hit the market will in fact be Ray Bans, with an expected 2021 release date. The announcement was made at the annual Facebook Connect event, the focus of which is to highlight the company’s new virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) offerings.
Facebook will be partnering with Ray Ban-maker Luxottica on a multiyear-basis, with the collaboration first reported last year by CNBC. At the time, the joint-venture was expected to ship a smart glasses product by 2023, 2024, or even 2025, internally code named Project Orion.
“After spending time with their team and visiting their factory, I knew that they were the right partner for us to help bring the best technology together with the best glasses,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during the live stream of the event.
According to what the social media giant told The Verge, the product will not be classified as an AR product. In fact, little is still known about the product itself, or its features, save for the fact that it will not have an integrated display that superimposes images over the real world like traditional AR. During last year’s partnership reveal, sources said that glasses would serve as a replacement for customers’ smartphones, and would allow users to take calls, show information to users in a small display and live-stream their vantage point to their social media friends and followers.
“I can’t go into full product details yet, but they’re really the next step on the road to augmented reality glasses,” Zuckerberg said. “And they look pretty good too.”
In a sense, it seems Facebook’s upcoming product will offer something similar to the Amazon Echo Frames smart glasses, which are more-or-less regular glasses with some digital functionalities. Like a smart watch, they serve as a supplementary product that interfaces with your smartphone and offers you expanded functionalities, like access to smart assistant Alexa on the go without the need to pop out your smartphone. This is made possible by an in-built microphone housed in the glasses, as well as directed speakers that transmit audio like Alexa’s responses and even music to your ears.
Getting consumers to buy smart glasses will be a challenge, even with a premium brand onboard to design them. Google Glass, which had more fully-fledged AR capabilities, failed, and the mixed reality (MR) glasses Microsoft HoloLens didn’t find much traction with a mainstream audience either.
It will be interesting to see how Facebook learns from the mistakes of its rivals. However, the company is pinning its hopes on other peripherals, like the new and improved standalone VR headset Oculus Quest 2, which was also revealed at the Facebook Connect event.
The company’s more ambitious venture is Project Aria, which is currently being field tested. Project Aria is a research device shaped like glasses that uses in-built sensors and a camera to collect information about the world to support Facebook’s other wearables.
“The [Project Aria] devices will capture video, audio, eye-tracking and location data that Facebook can use to aid its development of augmented reality smart glasses,” CNBC reported.