Are the Facebook Ray-Ban ‘smart’ shades the next stage in wearable data gathering?

Iconic brands launch their latest effort in a tricky, niche market but is it a step towards securing the future?
10 September 2021

Facebook and iconic eyewear brand Ray-Ban launched their new smart glasses, the latest effort in a tricky, niche market but which the social media giant sees as a step toward its future. (Photo by Handout / Ray-Ban and Facebook / AFP)

Facebook and iconic eyewear brand Ray-Ban launched their new smart glasses this week, the latest effort in a tricky, niche market but which the social media giant sees as a step toward its future.

The “Ray-Ban Stories” shades can take pictures and video upon the wearer’s voice commands, and the frames can connect wirelessly to the Facebook platform through an app. “We took our Wayfarer (frames), born in 1952, and we reinvented the design squeezing in some cool technology,” said Fabio Borsoi, a global research and design director at the EssilorLuxottica group, Ray-Ban’s maker.

Facebook is wading into a market that has already seen 2013’s Google Glass, which sparked a privacy backlash over built-in cameras and prompted the tech titan to pivot its focus for the device away from the general public. Messaging app SnapChat has also released its camera-equipped Spectacles, but they are pricey and have struggled to catch on broadly with tech lovers.

Notably, the Ray-Ban Stories glasses will not have augmented reality features — technology that can mesh online computing with visual cues such as mapping or face recognition. Instead, the shades are an early step toward efforts to create futuristic eyewear that adds to real-world views with data or graphics from the internet, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has said previously.

The company had said in July it was combining specialists from across its hardware, gaming, and virtual reality units to build an immersive digital world known as the “metaverse”.


Facebook, Ray-Ban prioritize user data privacy

Priced starting at US$299, the Ray-Ban Stories will roll out in Australia, Britain, Canada, Ireland, Italy, and the United States. Cameras are built into the front of the frames, while the arms are designed to act as directional speakers for listening to calls or streamed audio.

A white light in the front of the frame goes on when the cameras are being used, which is intended as a privacy feature to alert people they could be filmed. Users can take a picture or a video clip of up to 30 seconds by pressing a button at the temple or using a voice command, both of which can be cues that a camera is on.

“We need the user to feel completely in control of their capture experience,” said Facebook Reality Labs product manager Hind Hobeika. “And, similarly, we need people around them to feel comfortable that these smart glasses exist and always be in the know when a capture is happening,” Hobeika added, referring to filming.

The glasses also have a physical switch for turning them off. Users log into the glasses’ Facebook View app using their accounts at the social network. Ray-Ban Stories frames sync wirelessly to a smartphone app designed specifically for handling images or video captured by the glasses.

Users can decide using the app whether they want to share pictures or video they have just captured, such as posting to Facebook or attaching them to an email. Only data needed to run the app is gathered, and no information is used for targeting ads, said Hobeika.

Overall, Facebook is expanding its range to cover even more AI-enabled products, including the new summarising app for news articles. In fact, Facebook is using AI for various matters, from curbing the spread of misinformation on its social media platforms to removing hate speech, along with scanning political content. The social media giant is pegging AI as the panacea for all the problems that it has faced and will likely deal with in the future. As per BuzzFeed News, Facebook’s CTO Mike Schroepfer said, “We are paving the way for breakthrough new experiences that, without hyperbole, will improve the lives of billions.”