A patent application granted to Facebook with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) late last month suggests that the company might be developing an augmented reality gadget shaped like a bear… It's confusing indeed, but the patent application lists a couple of fields of classification corresponding with games, toys, and sports equipment, and one of the inventors mentioned in the paper is Baback Elmieh, Head of AR Product Management at Facebook, so let's dig a bit deeper.
The D21 USPTO field of classification describes games, toys, or sports equipment while the cited 611 and 618 subclasses are meant to label designs for toy dogs, and toy representations of wild or jungle-dwelling cat figures (namely lions and tigers), respectively. The 611 subclass also encompasses designs that include clothing and spun thread, animal hair, or filament, while D09 field of classification also mentioned in the paper is meant for packages and containers for goods.
Meanwhile, the sketches included in the patent application itself seem to showcase the rough design of a bear head, so before things get any weirder than they already seem, let's take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
The inventors mentioned in the application include Baback Elmieh, Head of AR Product Management at Facebook; Victoria Slaker, Vice President at Ammunition Group – which despite the name is actually an industrial design firm based in San Francisco; and Steve Sangik Lee, said Ammunition Group's Lead Industrial Designer. The paper also mentions Alexandre Jais, CTO and Co-founder of ETQ Labs, which appears to be an upcoming startup focused on eye care and eyewear, set to begin operations this year.
Given all of this information, Facebook's unusual electronic device spotted in the USPTO database appears to be an Augmented Reality-based toy/gadget shaped like an animal. Basically, a robot toy enriched with AR capabilities in order to perhaps scan and interact with its environment, provide image detection and/or voice recognition. Then again since eyewear seems to be involved, it could also be a Head-Mounted Display shaped like the head of a bear, but the purpose of this type of gadget is anyone's guess and it seems like quite a stretch.
However the idea of a robot pet is not that unusual considering similar products already been launched by different other OEMs over the years, including the Sony Aibo and Anki Vector, but it's still a bit weird to imagine owning a Facebook-labeled AR-powered wild animal/toy that might be able to connect to the social platform.
This is especially true given the recent privacy controversies surrounding pretty much all the social platforms, or Facebook's abandoned plans to spy on rival firms using its Android application. Facebook's Portal and Portal+ smart speakers seemed rather creepy to begin with, and an AR-powered robot shaped like a wild animal might be even worse.
It's worth noting that the patent application at hand was filed as far back as December 2016, but it was published only late last month. At the time of this writing, it's not clear what might become of Facebook's alleged plans for developing augmented reality robotic pets. The project may have been considered years ago and shelved until recently, and there's no telling whether an actual commercial product based on this patent application or idea will ever be released by the social media giant.