Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, made an ostensibly exciting announcement on Tuesday afternoon: a glove. But not just any glove will suffice. It’s a haptic glove with tiny motors that mimic the sense of touch by releasing bursts of air, and it looks like a wearable nightmare.
The company has reportedly been working on the project for seven years, and the team responsible for its development is planning ahead at least a decade. The glove is also less unnerving than the Facebook-announced brain wave-reading bracelet from earlier this year (the company insists that the wristband does not read your mind).
The prototype haptic glove, created by Meta Reality Labs, is intended to work with future virtual reality systems. The majority of VR headsets currently work with controllers that include joysticks and buttons.
More Reality Labs products, such as the Meta Quest and Quest 2, offer controller-free hand tracking, which interprets what your hands are doing and translates it into the virtual world using the headset’s camera and computer vision algorithms.
Meta did not come up with the concept of haptic clothing. Several companies sell haptic vests, pants, and even full suits that look like battery-powered Marvel superhero outfits. Haptic clothing has been around since the early 1990s, much like the term metaverse, which was coined by author Neal Stephenson in his sci-fi novel Snow Crash in 1992.
In Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel Ready Player One, as well as Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation, haptic gloves played a key role. In the real world, around 2021, the vast majority of people who use technology like this are serious money-spending gamers.
A $500 haptic vest, for example, will poke you in 40 different places on your body.
It’s worth noting that VR has traditionally been the domain of serious gamers, which could pose a problem for Meta and its metaverse master plan. Mark Zuckerberg isn’t doing himself any favors by leaning into the sci-fi-inspired inventions his Reality Labs is churning out if he wants everyone to use his metaverse products, much like the nearly 3 billion people who use Facebook.
Although haptic clothing is a futuristic concept, it is also strange and potentially intrusive. The hand tracking technology used by Meta Quest does collect and store information about your movements. If you’re playing a round of the popular VR game Beat Saber in your living room, this may appear harmless.
It’s even more concerning when you consider a world where you do most of your computing through a virtual reality headset or augmented reality goggles, which is essentially what Zuckerberg envisions for the internet’s future.
Does this project strike you as interesting and relevant to Meta’s plan to create a metaverse in which people wearing smart glasses might want a computer to recognize what they’re looking at someday? Sure.
Isn’t it a little concerning that the company that is teaching robots to see — the company that wants to own a large chunk of the metaverse, the next generation of the internet — is also the company that many people claim is destroying democracy? Yes, it does.