Technology 3 min read

Facebook is Working on Enhanced Hearing for VR Headsets

Giu Vicente / Unsplash.com

Giu Vicente / Unsplash.com

Facebook's Reality Labs Research is working to enhance the hearing feature of future AR glasses and improve the experience of users in noisy environments.

Imagine a VR experience that’s so immersive it feels real.

Whether it’s a birthday party that’s miles away or a workplace across the world, the feeling is just as if you were there. This experience is known as social presence.

As futuristic as current VR tech has gotten today, such advancement has remained evasive due to unrealistic sound — among other things. Several factors can contribute to a poor audio experience.

These include a noisy environment that makes us repeat ourselves. Also, it’s not uncommon to lose track of a conversation when you can’t tell who is saying what.

In the end, we end up doing any or all of these three things — stay quiet, get frustrated, or lose our voice to shouting. But that doesn’t have to be the case.

Again, imagine a VR experience with an enhanced hearing capability. Not only can you hear in better in noisy places, but you can also identify the individual that’s talking.

That’s what the audio team at Facebook Reality Labs Research is bringing to smart eyewear.

In a blog post, Technology Communications Manager at Facebook, Lisa Brown Jaloza wrote:

“The mission of the team is twofold: to create virtual sounds that are perceptually indistinguishable from reality and to redefine human hearing.”

Here’s how it works.

Using Enhanced Hearing Capability in AR Glasses

Two journalist testing enhanced hearing and audio presence on AR glasses
FRL Research audio demo / About.fb.com

The enhanced hearing feature combines artificial intelligence with sound suppression technology.

So, you walk into a crowded bar with sounds from a live band, TV show, noisy kitchen, and conversations merged into a mess. The tech allows you to isolate the specific sound that you wish to hear by looking at them.

In other words, merely looking at an object will not only enhance and clarify the sound or voice. At the same time, it’ll eliminate different sounds outside your field of vision.

How is this possible? Well, the eyewear consists of an array of miniature microphones that listens to all sounds. Several built-in components also detect the head’s position of eye movement.

That way, the AR glasses or VR headset can quickly isolate the target of interest.

Using Audio Presence to Provide an Improved VR Experience

Audio presence makes two people conversing over a long distance feel like they’re together. Researchers determine such presence by measuring specific metrics. These include:

  • Interaural time difference
  • The difference in the time it takes for a sound to reach each ear
  • The differences in volume for each ear
  • Room acoustics

Besides these metrics, the research team also considered the shape of the user’s ear. Everyone has a unique head-related transfer function or HRTF. As a result, no two people have the same hearing profile.

According to Facebook, the two novel technologies — audio presence and enhanced hearing — are the future audio.

The social media giant had planned to demonstrate these advances in AR glasses research at a conference this month. However, the event was canceled due to the pandemic.

Instead, Facebook is now offering demonstrations to selected journalists and media experts.

Read More: Using VR Simulations to Show People Effects of Climate Change

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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