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Facebook is working on AR glasses, but it will take awhile

Augmented reality glasses could change the way people live day to day. Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer says the company is working toward that future.

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Facebook says it's working on augmented reality glasses, but they are years away.

James Martin/CNET

Facebook on Wednesday laid out a compelling vision of the future where the physical world blurs with the digital world.

With augmented reality, or AR, glasses, which overlay digital graphics on top of what you already see in real life, you could avoid the social pitfalls of forgetting someone's name. The glasses would show you that person's name above their head, Michael Abrash, chief scientist of Facebook-owned VR company Oculus said Wednesday at Facebook's F8 software conference.

The glasses could also tell you if your kid has a fever, give you access to your entire workspace while you're on a flight, or mute the background noise when you just want to focus only on hearing the person you're talking to.

It all sounds very pie-in-the sky, but Facebook's not being hypothetical.

Asked if the company is actively working on AR glasses, Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer is unequivocal: "Yes," he said, definitively. Pressed to elaborate, he said, "You can think of it as an extension of the work we're doing on VR."

But even though Facebook is working on those smart specs, don't hold your breath. Abrash said on stage that true augmented reality, or "full AR," is at least five years away.

"We put this pretty deep in the 'R' part of R&D," Schroepfer adds. "We're building core technologies at every part of the path."

In the meantime, Facebook is making big bets on the technology. On Tuesday, the company unveiled a platform that lets outside software developers create AR experiences for Facebook. Other tech giants are making big investments in AR too. Snapchat pioneered much of how consumers use AR camera filters today. Apple is reportedly working on AR technology too.

All of the work Facebook is doing is building toward the day -- years down the line -- the company can release prototypes for glasses.

"We're building out the AR platform today in everyone's pocket," Schroepfer said. "So the moment you put one of these glasses on years from now, those applications are already prevalent in the world. It's like, 'You know those things you used to do with your phone? You don't have to take your phone out anymore. Put these glasses on.'"

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