In recent years, Meta (previously Facebook) has gone through some major changes. Since purchasing Oculus in 2014, the company’s interest in immersive technologies has grown, prompting the brand to completely reform its business model with a focus on building a new “metaverse.”
As adoption of XR solutions has increased, Meta’s immersive focus has evolved too. The company has been consistently pushing out new hardware targeted at consumers and enterprise users alike, as well as software solutions and innovations designed to help people traverse the metaverse. In June 2022, Meta announced it was scaling down its production of AR smart glasses to focus more heavily on metaverse innovation through its internal “Meta Reality Labs” team.
But what actually is “Meta Reality Labs?” Despite a lot of chatter in the tech community, the Meta Reality Labs have remained something of a mystery. Here’s what we know about it so far.
Introducing Meta Reality Labs
Meta Reality Labs is a Research and Development project created by the Meta brand. It was designed specifically to focus on the immersive technologies being built by Meta, such as VR headsets, metaverse avatars, and other XR innovations.
Otherwise known as “RL Research”, Meta Reality Labs is headed by Chief Scientist Michael Abrash and consists of a huge number of distinguished professionals within the virtual and augmented reality space. The team operates primarily in Redmond Washington, though other offices are located around the world.
Currently, Meta hasn’t released a lot of information about the exact technologies being researched by the team, but they do say they’re looking at optics, displays, computer vision, brain-computer interface, tracking, and haptic interaction, among other things. Three of the key areas currently being addressed by Meta Reality Labs include:
- Oculus: The Virtual Reality segment of the Meta business model, the Oculus headsets are some of the most popular in the world. The RL Research team is currently working on ways to bring more people together in virtual reality, with redefined optics, enhanced tools, and innovative features. Oculus even introduced a new enterprise headset recently.
- Portal: The Portal video calling devices is another area being addressed by the Meta Reality Labs team. According to the company, these devices are designed to make it easier for people to connect with their loved ones when they’re thousands of miles apart, using smart camera technology and computer vision.
- Spark AR: The Spark AR studio created by Meta provides developers with an opportunity to design and implement their own augmented reality experiences. The company is currently working on making the AR environment more scalable and flexible for developers, to ensure everyone can create the most immersive augmented experiences.
The Meta Reality Labs team is also responsible for the research and development of the “Project Aria” concept. Project Aria is the name given to Meta’s Augmented Reality “Smart Glasses” solution, intended to enable more powerful interactions between the real and digital worlds.
What is Meta Reality Labs Currently Doing?
The main focus of Meta Reality Labs is research. Specifically, Meta wants to unlock and master the latest technologies likely to play a part in the future of the metaverse. The results of the company’s research can already be seen in a number of emerging Meta technologies.
The Project Aria smart glasses, for instance, are set to be made available to around 3,000 contractors and Facebook employees going forward, as well as paid research participants, to help Meta capture more data about how these tools can be used in the workplace and everyday life.
Currently, users can apply for a Project Aria research kit of their own, which comes with access to Aria glasses, a web portal, a companion app, a desktop app, a device SDK, and various data tools. Meta has already announced research partnerships with the National University of Singapore, BMW, and the Carnegie Mellon University. They’re also working alongside the Ego4D consortium to collect more of the data required to accelerate AR glasses adoption.
Another area where Meta Reality Labs research is progressing focuses on the use of haptics. Haptic glove research conducted by the team has led to the creation of a new wearable system that aims to make interacting with digital content easier in the metaverse. The wristbands currently utilize EMG technology to measure tiny muscle impulses. Feedback-based training processes allow the wearers to gradually reduce their actions, with the aim of eventually using only one motor neuron.
According to Meta, the haptic research is based around a desire to eventually create an XR interface that’s as natural and intuitive as dealing with content in the physical world.
What’s Next for Meta Reality Labs?
Currently, Meta has yet to release a lot of clear insights into what’s happening behind the scenes at the Reality Labs estate. However, members of the team have commented on the work they’re doing. According to members of RL Research, like Technical Program Manager Ruth T, the team is currently working towards a better understanding of how XR solutions can be utilized in the future.
Employees are examining dozens of factors to produce the ultimate metaverse, from the psychology behind computer and human interaction, to how the human perception system responds to visual and haptic stimuli. Notably, Meta has also released responsibility statements connected to RL Research.
While the group is currently dealing with some complex matters, like reading neural input and brainwaves, they also say they’re committed to protecting humans, and delivering solutions which advance experiences, rather than damaging privacy and security. As a result, the company has committed to developing technology that’s transparent, considerate, and human.
While it’s difficult to know exactly what will come next from Meta Reality Labs, we do know the organization is focused heavily on bridging the gaps in human and computer interaction. There’s a good chance the team at RL Research will be the people to bring forth the full vision of Meta’s “metaverse”, and they may even inspire other companies along the way.