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Facebook cancels Mind Reading Research Project

Facebook Reality Labs shuts down its research on head-mounted mind reading, instead focusing on a wrist-based device.

First vaguely unveiled at F8 2017, the project’s stated goal was to “create a system that can write 100 words per minute straight from your brain” without requiring implanted electrodes or other physically invasive techniques. Such a device can act as an input for AR or VR.

This BCI (Brain Computer Interface) work originally took place in Facebook’s advanced research department ‘Building 8’, run by former director of DARPA Regina Dugan. When building 8 was dissolved at the end of 2018, the project moved to Facebook Reality Labs.

In July 2019, Facebook took a closer look at a technical blog post, explaining the technology as near-infrared slide processing used to sense “changes in oxygen levels in the brain” caused by neurons that use oxygen when they are active – an indirect measure of brain activity. “A decade from now, the opportunity to write directly from our brains can be accepted as a given,” reads the blog post for 2019. “Not long ago, it sounded like science fiction. Now it feels within reasonable reach. ”

In a blog post this week, Facebook says that it “reassessed” its goals for BCI research. It no longer works on a head-mounted optical drive to read speech from thoughts. Instead, it will focus on the wrist-based device it unveiled earlier this year, which it says has “a short-term path to market”.

The wrist uses EMG (electromyography) to sense neural signals passing through the arm of the hand and fingers, replacing the need for optical hand tracking – and avoiding camera limitations. Facebook claims that this high bandwidth input will be “very reliable, subtle, customizable and adaptable to many situations”. FRL’s research director Sean Keller goes so far as to suggest “it will be the core entry for AR glasses.”

Facebook says it “still believes in the long-term potential of head-mounted BCI optical technology”, even though it does not work on it. The company creates its open-source BCI software and plans to “share head-mounted hardware prototypes with key researchers and other peers to help promote new uses, such as assistive technologies.”

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