Facebook reveals neural wristbands to control AR, and it's basically the Force

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Facebook Reality Labs (FRL) has unveiled a prototype set of wristbands that allows users to interact with an AR environment using nerve signals.

By using electromyography (EMG) to translate nerve signals into inputs, users can interact with an AR interface to perform tasks such as turning on a kettle.

Of course, this project is still in the early stages of development, with further research required before Facebook can bring its neural wristbands to a wider audience.

As with any hand-based controls that allow you to interact with objects from afar, it's hard not to see a connection to the Force. If this technology also sees use in gaming, we'd be surprised if we don't get a Star Wars-based game to give us that feeling.

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How do the wristbands work?

By sensing electrical motor nerve signals coming from the brain in the wrist, EMG translates a user's actions into tangible inputs.

"You're in this constant conversation with the machine," said Thomas Reardon, the Director of Neuromotor Interfaces at Facebook Reality Labs.

The team acknowledges this is a work in progress, with the first iteration likely only allowing for 'a click'. From this, they hope to utilise EMG to give users further control over objects through virtual User Interfaces.

You can check out the full video from Facebook here.

FRLBow
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Image: Facebook

Neural wristband uses

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Starting off with the 'intelligent click', FRL gave some examples of how this could be used by wristband owners. "Perhaps you head outside for a jog and, based on your past behaviour, the system thinks your most likely to want to listen to your running playlist," said Tanya Jonker, FRL Research Science Manager. "It then presents that option to you on the display: ‘Play running playlist?’"

The neural wristbands could also make for unique AR gaming experiences. FRL's video showed off a virtual bow and arrow demonstration - something we've seen a lot of in previous tech demos. Much like the DualSense controller, FRL suggests that by using wrist-based haptics, they can replicate the tension in drawing back a bow before firing.

Using drawing on past behaviour to make intelligent predictions has raised some concerns over data security and privacy. Addressing this issue, FRL's Research Science Director Sean Keller said: "We think deeply about how our technologies can positively and negatively impact society, so we drive our research and development in a highly principled fashion with transparency and intellectual honesty at the very core of what we do and what we build."

The blog post also referenced how FRL is supporting researchers to publish work on the issue, alongside collaborating with academic ethicists.

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