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Facebook, now Meta, is expanding smart glasses research into cars via BMW

The sensor-filled Project Aria research devices are also being tested in more places, and eventually with neural input wristbands.

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Project Aria on a tester, and what they look like: The glasses don't have displays and are being used to study how future headsets might be used in public.

Facebook

Facebook (now renamed Meta) is still trying to make AR-enabled, AI-assisted smart glasses happen. The company announced plans to field-test its camera and sensor-studded Project Aria research glasses in more places, with neural input wristbands, and even in cars. These plans for even more data-hungry glasses were announced during a week where a trove of leaked internal documents has reignited concerns that Facebook is putting its profits over user safety, harming children and damaging democracy in the process.

A newly announced partnership with BMW is going to explore the impact of driving while wearing smart glasses, a territory that's already raised significant safety concerns in the past: Facebook's Ray-Ban Stories glasses aren't recommended for use while driving, and neither was Google's Google Glass headset. According to Facebook, the partnership is also about exploring how AR glasses could integrate with cars and how they'd be used in a moving vehicle.

Facebook's full-blown AR glasses, which will aim to blend virtual objects and the real world with AI that will watch your daily activity through cameras, are still likely years away. Facebook's soon-to-be-CTO Andrew Bosworth told CNET last year that in "the next one or two years, I think I'd be pretty surprised to see [full AR glasses] in the industry. So we're definitely dealing with years -- hopefully not decades." However, Facebook already released its first pair of camera-equipped glasses earlier this year to widespread criticism.

Facebook began field-testing more advanced camera- and sensor-filled but display-free glasses called Project Aria last year with 100 wearers in the San Francisco Bay Area. Those field tests are now expanding to a group of 3,000 employees, contractors and paid participants.

Facebook Reality Labs Research head Michael Abrash sees wrist-worn neural input devices as being how these glasses will work in everyday life, but for now those wrist inputs don't exist: Facebook is doing demos and testing the glasses with wrist-worn clicker devices. Facebook is expecting the glasses to have their own AI that will assist with recalling lost items, an initiative that's already been in a research phase and clearly could involve a need for recording and processing a considerable amount of video data.

Facebook's handling privacy and data recording while wearing these test glasses via community use guidelines that sound a lot like the ones advising how to use Facebook's camera-equipped Ray-Ban glasses -- "ensuring that the external LED recording indicator is clearly visible" and "not recording sensitive activities or in sensitive places," plus identifying who a tester works for by a "lanyard or other means." 

But Facebook's promises of safe data handling with smart glasses come at a time when calls to break up Facebook, and wide-ranging accusations of societal damage through its platforms, have never been greater.