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Facebook's 'Reverse Passthrough' VR Prototype Is Nightmarish

Facebook Reality Labs will present new work on a ‘reverse passthrough’ VR concept at this year’s SIGGRAPH event which, honestly, looks quite terrifying in its current form.

A blog post from FRL’s research team posted this week showcases the concept. Reverse passthrough essentially shows a render of the VR user’s eyes on 3D displays at the front of the headset. The idea is to reduce the effect of VR users shutting off from people in the real world when they pull a device over their face. We’ve seen similar ideas before from companies like Google, who once showcased a means of showing the user’s face inside mixed reality capture. This project in particular was led by research scientist Nathan Matsuda.

Images in the blog post show very early versions of this work which, honestly, look quite frightening. But these are of course prototypes, not consumer products, meant more to display the idea in its raw form rather than present it as a consumer-ready concept.

According to the blog post, Matsuda started work on the concept in 2019, when he built a prototype Rift S headset with a 3D screen displayed on the front of the kit. The image displayed is of a 3D render of the engineer’s face, replicating eye movements with the help of eye-tracking cameras inside the headset.

In its current form, though, the prototype features “purpose-built optics, electronics, software, and a range of supporting technologies to capture and depict more realistic 3D faces.” The headset itself is a much smaller device than an Oculus Quest, looking comparable to Panasonic’s super slim VR glasses, but that’s negated by the fact it’s connected to a huge amount of wires and circuitry. Matsuda’s eyes, meanwhile, are still 3D renders and not the real thing. The displays themselves are made up of a pretty sophisticated stack, as shown in the below diagram.

Here’s what it looks like in action which is, again, more than a little scary:

As with a lot of FRL’s work, though, this is a purely experimental prototype and definitely not something you should count on seeing in a consumer version anytime soon. Would you be interested in seeing the reverse passthrough concept in a consumer VR headset? Let us know in the comments below!

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