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Zuckerberg: Neural Wristband For AR/VR Input Will Ship "In The Next Few Years"

Zuckerberg: Neural Wristband For AR/VR Input Will Ship "In The Next Few Years"

Meta's CEO indicated that the finger tracking neural wristband the company has been developing will ship as a product "in the next few years".

Appearing on the Morning Brew Daily talk show on Friday, Mark Zuckerberg said "we're actually kind of close to having something here that we're going to have in a product in the next few years".

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Meta research demo of neural wristband tracking, from 2021.

In late 2019 Facebook acquired a New York based startup called CTRL Labs, which had been working on the idea of a finger tracking wristband since at least 2015, though an early 2019 patent filing suggests Facebook was already working on it too internally. The CEO and co-founder of CTRL Labs, Thomas Reardon, has led the project within Meta since the acquisition.

While headsets like Meta Quest and Apple Vision Pro are already capable of tracking your fingers optically using computer vision, this approach has limited accuracy and relatively high latency. It's also prone to occlusion issues, and performs worse in dimmer lighting.

An entirely different approach to finger tracking is to sense muscle activation through a wearable wristband, using a technique called electromyography (EMG). Theoretically this could have zero or even negative latency, perfect accuracy, work regardless of lighting conditions, and not be subject to occlusion. When discussing the technology in 2021 Reardon claimed that a recent breakthrough enabled decoding the activity of individual neurons for “almost infinite control over machines”.

Occlusion-free finger tracking of this quality and reliability could enable precise control of complex interfaces with incredibly subtle movements of your hand resting on your lap, making it an ideal input method for headsets and AR glasses.

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Meta concept of AR glasses interface driven by neural wristband input.

Zuckerberg's statement comes just a few weeks after Apple launched Vision Pro with its own take on the future of input, a combination of eye tracking and optical finger tracking enabling "gaze and pinch". This is a rapid and intuitive method of selection and "clicking" can be performed with your hand resting on your lap, but interactions more complex than a click, such as scrolling and resizing, still require relatively dramatic hand movements and your hands must be visible to the headset.

Meta could be hoping that its neural wristband enables lower-effort precise manipulation in any scenario, somewhat akin to the mouse of a computer but with an extra dimension. And in fact, combined with a flat surface Meta previously claimed it will even precise enough to emulate a keyboard by around 2028.

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Meta research demo of neural wristbands emulating a keyboard.

So how will this arrive in a Meta product?

In early 2023 an internal Meta AR/VR hardware roadmap leaked to The Verge, revealing details about Quest 3, the existence of the headset now rumored to be called Quest 3 Lite, and the cancelation of the 2024 candidate for Quest Pro 2 in favor of a more ambitious but "way out" model. But this roadmap also mentioned that Meta was planning to release the neural wristband alongside the third generation Ray-Ban smartglasses in 2025 as the input method.

Third Gen Smart Ray-Bans Reportedly Getting A HUD And Neural Wristband
The third generation Ray-Ban smartglasses set for 2025 will get a HUD and neural wristband, according to a Meta roadmap leaked to The Verge.

According to that roadmap, two models of the wristband will be offered at different price points - one with the neural input tech only and another that also has a display and camera to act as a smartwatch too. A second generation of the wristband will also apparently act as the input device for the true AR glasses Meta plans to launch in 2027. We should however note that this plan or the timeline may have changed in the year since.

It's possible Apple could also ship this technology in a future version of its Watch product line, though there have been no reports so far of Apple working on wrist EMG.

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