Meta’s Secret AR Glasses Might be ‘the Most Advanced Technology on the Planet’ – But You Can’t Have Them

It’s no secret that Meta is pouring massive resources into its quest to build a fully-fledged pair of augmented reality (AR) glasses.

What is secret is the pair of glasses themselves – because they do actually exist.

In an interview with The Verge/Command Line, Meta CTO Andrew Bosworth revealed that some Meta staff already use a working device.

He said that employees used the glasses last year and will use them for work tasks in 2024, highlighting calls and meetings as potential use cases.

The Meta exec revealed little about the device’s spec beyond it having a display, the ability to hold software and battery life long enough to survive a decent chunk of the working day.

And Bosworth wasn’t downplaying their capability, either.

“It’s probably our most exciting prototype that we’ve had to date,” he said.

“I might get myself in trouble for saying this; I think it might be the most advanced piece of technology on the planet in its domain. In the domain of consumer electronics, it might be the most advanced thing that we’ve ever produced as a species.”

But, there’s a catch – and it’s a big one. So big, in fact, that it might mean the outside world never sees this particular version of Meta’s AR glasses.

Bosworth said they are “prohibitively expensive” and extremely complicated to assemble, even suggesting that this complexity means no set of glasses Meta has built so far is the same as another.

In essence, the glasses are too good to build on a mass scale. Meta has built the prototypes using the best materials and components available to give them power, detailed displays and excellent battery life.

“The path that we found is this one that we’re going to use for these internal glasses,” Bosworth said. “[However] there isn’t a real path to making [this prototype] cost-effective.

“We thought maybe there would be breakthroughs on the drivers of cost, and that just hasn’t materialised and doesn’t look like it’s going to materialise.”

So, What Does Meta Do Next?

Bosworth frequently described Meta’s approach to AR as a set of paths. Unfortunately, the path it set down for the prototype glasses is unlikely to be the one that leads to a consumer product.

“It’s exciting to have a device that is spectacular in what it’s able to do, but it’s also a device that is not on the same technology path that we need to pursue to make it accessible to people,” Bosworth said.

But all is not lost. Meta is also walking several other paths that will almost certainly lead to a purchasable product at some point.

The challenge, however, is that these paths trade quality for cost reduction. Meta is unwilling to make this trade-off just yet because the materials required to deliver an acceptable, if slightly inferior, experience don’t exist yet.

That’s not to say they won’t exist relatively soon. Bosworth said Meta is working on these materials and believes Meta’s AR roadmap has only been set back a year or two.

He didn’t discuss these timelines, but a widely reported story last year, first covered by The Verge, claimed an internal presentation pegged the release date to 2027.

This release date was considered up-to-date as recently as November when Meta’s head of AR Don Box software stepped down, although his departure is not thought to be the reason behind the potential delay.

Until Then?

Meta took steps into the glasses space through its Ray-Ban partnership in 2021. It referred to them as “smart”, but really all they did was record what someone was hearing and seeing, and play music through speakers in the frames.

However, something unexpected burst onto the scene later on in 2021, nudging the Ray-Ban specs closer towards Meta’s ultimate AR glasses goal: Generative AI.

Meta’s generative AI-powered assistant was crammed into the second iteration of the glasses, which launched last year – creating something of a stepping stone between their predecessors and the true AR glasses that are somewhere on the horizon.

“The roadmap that we had was bizarrely the right roadmap for contextual AI,” Bosworth said. “You want a pair of glasses that has a camera, microphones, speakers… We have that. Then, you want one that has a display.”

That’s the one we’re all waiting for.