Facebook's bizarre 'reverse passthrough' VR headset wants to show off your eyes

Facebook reverse passthrough VR
(Image credit: Facebook Research)

Facebook revealed a new experimental reverse passthrough VR concept that displays the eyes of users wearing a VR headset to the outside world, and it aims to reshape the social connection between real and virtual worlds.

Facebook Reality Labs (FRL) will present the new concept for "social co-presence" while in virtual reality at the SIGGRAPH 2021 event taking place this August. The research team's blog post gives us a sneak peek at development so far, and it's giving off sci-fi vibes akin to The 6th Day. 

(Image credit: Facebook Research)

The reverse passthrough VR prototype works in contrast with what the Oculus Quest can do with Passthrough+, which uses externally facing cameras to help users wearing a VR headset see their surroundings in the real world. Instead of external surroundings, the prototype shows off your eyes to the outside world.

Using microlens-array light field displays, a floating 3D image shows off the user's eyes "showing the correct perspective for multiple external viewers." This means the images shift seamlessly so no matter where someone from the outside is looking at the user, the light field display will offer a natural-looking image of the user's eyes. 

Facebook wants social co-presence in VR

FRL aims to make VR headsets that are "compact, light, and all-day wearable; that mix high-quality virtual images with high-quality real-world images." With the team's ultimate goal to make VR users be "socially present with anyone in the world," this gives us a good indication of what to expect its upcoming Ray-Ban smart glasses could feature.

According to the post, however, the VR prototype is not even close to a product roadmap; the eye and facial renders don't feel quite lifelike yet and the current headset is riddled with cables. Lead research scientist Nathan Matsuda stated he thought an early prototype of the technology was "kind of a goofy idea."

Now, the 3D technology has evolved to be able to capture and depict more realistic 3D faces, thanks to purpose-built optics and a variety of supporting technologies. Reverse passthrough VR being used in consumer products appears to be a while away, but we now have a glimpse of what Facebook aims to bring to VR. 

Other tech giants such as Apple are also looking into the future of VR technology, with the Cupertino company rumored to be developing a Apple VR and mixed reality headset. For now, Facebook is dominating with its popular Oculus Quest 2 VR headset, which is about to get a big upgrade in August

Darragh Murphy

Darragh Murphy is fascinated by all things bizarre, which usually leads to assorted coverage varying from washing machines designed for AirPods to the mischievous world of cyberattacks. Whether it's connecting Scar from The Lion King to two-factor authentication or turning his love for gadgets into a fabricated rap battle from 8 Mile, he believes there’s always a quirky spin to be made. With a Master’s degree in Magazine Journalism from The University of Sheffield, along with short stints at Kerrang! and Exposed Magazine, Darragh started his career writing about the tech industry at Time Out Dubai and ShortList Dubai, covering everything from the latest iPhone models and Huawei laptops to massive Esports events in the Middle East. Now, he can be found proudly diving into gaming, gadgets, and letting readers know the joys of docking stations for Laptop Mag.