It'll be at least five more years before consumers walk around wearing augmented-reality glasses, Oculus's chief scientist predicted Wednesday at the closing keynote of Facebook's 2017 F8 developer conference.

Five years seems like forever in Silicon Valley, but it's not as if Facebook will be sitting on its hands for that time. In the interim, the company will be working to develop bleeding-edge mind-reading technology that could allow consumers to type text for their AR devices using nothing but their brains.

"We have a goal of creating a system capable of typing 100 word per minute, five times faster than you can type on your smartphone, straight from your brain," said Regina Dugan, the head of Facebook's Building 8 division, which focuses on building advanced hardware technologies.

Building 8 has assembled a team of 60 scientists to work on this effort, which Dugan and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hope could one day make it possible for users to communicate instantaneously. Having this capability is crucial for Facebook's efforts as the company believes that AR glasses, not smartphones, will be the key hardware consumer device of the future. Having a way to input your thoughts into those devices without using your fingers will be necessary.

"Eventually, we want to turn it into a wearable technology that can be manufactured at scale," Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post following the event. "Even a simple yes/no 'brain click' would help make things like augmented reality feel much more natural."

For Facebook, this year's F8 conference has been all about augmented reality. The company is making a big push to allow developers to engineer 3-D animations and experiences for the Story features new to the Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram apps. The company believes that stories on your phone is the start of the AR wave, but eventually, consumers will experience reality and augmented reality -- known as "mixed reality" -- through smart glasses.

Eventually AR glasses "will become a vital part of our everyday lives, and that will create tremendous opportunities for everyone in this room," said Michael Abrash, chief scientist of Facebook's Oculus.

Creating that mind-reading technology will not be easy. In her presentation, Dugan played a video of a woman typing with her mind at eight words per minute. That woman, however, has a chip surgically embedded in her head. For Building 8, the mission is to create technology that can scale, and injecting chips into people's skulls does not fit that bill.

That is why it is necessary that Facebook create external sensors capable of precisely reading brain activity through people's hair, skin and skulls, Dugan said.

"No such technology exists today," she said. "We'll need to develop one."

At the keynote, Dugan also demonstrated another far-out-sounding technology her team is working on that allows people to listen using nothing but their skin. Feeling different kinds of vibrations, a Facebook employee was able to take commands sent to frequency bands in her shirt from a device by a colleague. Dugan called this a "haptic vocabulary" and said it could be another way for humans to communicate in the future by taking advantage of the incredible capabilities of our brains.

"We are wired to communicate and connect," Dugan said.

Published on: Apr 19, 2017