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Facebook Reality Labs Creates VR Headset with Projecting Eyes

Credit: Unsplash

Because… you demanded it?

The scientific process, while seemingly simple on paper, occasionally takes us in strange, seemingly pointless directions. For example, when you’re wearing a virtual reality headset, nobody standing near you is able to see your eyes, right? Well, what if there were tiny cameras on the inside of the headset that projected to screens mounted on the outside? What’s that? “That’s completely pointless?” I don’t disagree, but heaven help us, the mad lads at Facebook Reality Labs went and made it anyway.

Researchers from FRL released a paper this week detailing their theory and experimental prototype of “reverse passthrough VR” with the intent of removing the feeling of physical isolation that accompanies wearing a VR headset. For reference, “passthrough VR” is when a little camera on the outside of a headset sends visual feed to the eyepieces on the inside, allowing a wearer to see what’s around them without taking the headset off. So this is basically just that, but… in reverse.

FRL scientist Nathan Matsuda first cooked up this strange little idea back in 2019 when he attached a 3D display to the outside of an Oculus Rift S headset. This display showed a live feed of his eyes and the bridge of his nose on the inside of the headset, allowing him to maintain eye contact with people even while wearing the headset. It also looks super creepy, but that’s prototype tech for you.

“My first reaction was that it was kind of a goofy idea, a novelty at best,” FRL chief scientist Michael Abrash said in a blog post. “But I don’t tell researchers what to do, because you don’t get innovation without freedom to try new things.”

The practical applications of this research, if any, include the possibility of wearing a VR headset in a more public and still being able to interact with those around you. Of course, with regular passthrough VR, you could probably still do that, but theoretically, now you could do it while a bug-eyed representation of your eyes stares at people. Fun!