‘Mirror Lake’ is Meta’s Next Big VR Headset Bet
In a recent call, Meta boss Mark Zuckerberg showcased a number of physical VR headset prototypes the company has been working on over the past seven years. One for which there was no functioning prototype is dubbed Mirror Lake.
Mirror Lake is a powerful virtual reality headset that is expected to meet Meta’s VR hardware aspirations in the future.
Zuckerberg’s showcase last week was meant to demonstrate the company’s new and purpose-built VR display systems. The headsets also show the VR hardware direction that the company will take in the next five to ten years.
Meta’s stated aim is to create powerful virtual reality headsets that will blur the line between the virtual worlds and reality.
The prototypes that Zuckerberg showcased over a fortnight ago are the building blocks towards the realization of Meta’s VR hardware aspirations. The company is working on variable focus with the Half-Dome; on retina resolution with the Butterscotch prototype; HDR capability with the Starburst prototype and holographic optics with the Holocake 2 prototype. The holographic prototypes are what will eventually enable Meta to build very thin and light virtual reality headsets.
All the prototypes that Zuckerberg displayed are functional. However, their display technologies are currently at different phases of feasibility and commercialization.
Mirror Lake is one of the prototypes that Zuckerberg showcased during the call but without a running prototype and was only presented as a blueprint for a future headset.
Mirror Lake is a futuristic Meta virtual reality headset that will include most of the other technologies that Meta has developed in the past seven years, all packed inside a slim, lightweight, and energy-efficient device VR device.
What will these features include?
Variable Focus and Lens Attachments
The Mirror Lake headset will build on the display architecture shown in the Holocake 2 prototype: it will use holographic optics mimicking a pancake lens. This will give the headset a very thin profile that takes a ski goggle-like form factor.
This type of display system is also flat and as a result, can be combined with various other technologies and optical elements like the liquid crystal lenses in the Half Dome 3. The flat display also provides for a variable focus. It can have thin lens attachments that have corrective lenses so users with eye problems won’t need to wear extra prescription glasses when using the headset.
In the first part of the video below, you can see the sandwich principle.
New Eye Tracking and Passthrough Systems
Meta says holographic coils can also be embedded in the Holocake optics to direct light from the wearer’s eyes to a camera pair that is located on the side of the headset thereby giving the headset a multi-view eye-tracking functionality. This gives the headset better eye tracking which also leads to improvements in distortion correction, better accuracy of the variable focus, distortion correction and the passthrough mode.
Mirror Lake will have superior passthrough functionality and will be Meta’s first VR headset that will have full mixed reality functionality. Mirror Lake will leverage a new type of passthrough mode that relies on machine learning to solve one of the pressing problems in passthrough technology: cameras failing to match the eye position. At the SIGGRAPH conference in August 2022, Meta will also showcase a technology it calls Neural Passthrough.
Full Passthrough Functionality
Mirror Lake will feature passthrough functionality. The outer case of the headset will feature two flat 3D displays that display the eyes and face of the wearer so they are visible to others. Meta calls this feature “reverse passthrough.” Research on this functionality was presented in mid-2021.
The main bottleneck with realizing the reverse passthrough concept is the light source. Meta’s Holocake 2 and Mirror Lake designs both use laser light rather than LEDs for their backlighting. However, there still aren’t suitable lasers that are suited for this or that are mass-producible.
During the presentation, Meta’s chief scientist Abrash, who appeared alongside Zuckerberg, says the company will have to undertake a lot of engineering to realize a laser that is consumer-viable that will meet the company’s specifications. The laser will have to be safe, low-cost, efficient and it will have to fit inside a slim virtual reality headset. Abrash said realizing that suitable laser source isn’t a certainty.
Meta’s head of display research Douglas Lanman stated that the Mirror Lake concept could fail if the company fails to find a suitable laser source. That will prompt Meta to pursue a different technological path in developing its high-end futuristic headset. However, the Meta team believes its vision of a future VR headset will be feasible over the long haul.