Meta Patents Aim to Read Brain and Body signals

Meta’s patents highlight a recent consumer tech trend: Tech firms are testing the boundaries of just how close they can get to users.

Photo by Eren Li on Pexels

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Meta wants to get in your personal space to make extended reality more, well, real. The company filed two patents for tools that read your body’s neural and muscular signals for use in controlling the metaverse. 

First up is Meta’s patent for “in-ear electroencephalography [EEG] signal verification.” This system includes an in-ear device with an electrode that’s “configured to be in contact with an inner surface of the ear canal,” a speaker that emits a “calibration audio signal,” and a controller for generating “neural signal data” based on the signals from the electrode. 

The neural signals correspond with “brain activity of the user in response to the predetermined audible feature.” Finally, an action is performed based on the neural signal data. Some of the options for actions include improving “audible perception” by helping bolster audio processing in noisy environments, or determining who a user is paying attention to “amplify the corresponding audio while attenuating other sounds.” 

Meta noted that establishing valid electrical signals through the ear can represent “not only brain activity, but also activity of other parts of the anatomy of the user like eyes, heart, and the like.” 

Photo via the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Meta also is seeking to patent a system for “neuromuscular-signal-based detection” of in-air hand gestures. These gestures allow users to produce and modify text in extended reality environments. 

This method includes collecting data from muscular signal sensing devices (the diagrams depict this as a smartwatch or wristband, which Meta hinted at in previous patents) that are in communication with a headset or smart glasses, which detect hand gestures performed by the user corresponding with “target terms” for text modifications. Voice input is then used to do the actual text modification. 

For example, if you want to send a text that says “pick up eggs on your way home,” but accidentally wrote “pick up milk on your way home,” this system would allow you to use hand gestures to identify the word “milk” and change it out for “eggs” using voice input. 

Photo via the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Meta’s patents highlight a recent consumer tech trend: Tech firms are testing the boundaries of just how close they can get to users before they gets freaked out. Apple’s patents for things like in-home location awareness and real-time social engagement tracking are other examples. Apple has even sought to patent its own in-ear EEG system similar to Meta’s. 

But here’s the fundamental difference: Apple has user trust, while Meta, frankly, has fumbled it

That said, when looking at extended reality, Meta has Apple beat in terms of cost, said Jake Maymar, VP of Innovation at The Glimpse Group. Apple has priced its Vision Pro headset, to be released early 2024, at around $3,500. Meanwhile, The Meta Quest 3 starts at around $500. This price difference appeals more to the casual consumer, he said, even if that means sacrificing privacy for convenience. 

“I think a lot of people evaluate it as, if it got to a point where there was a breach in their data, and it did affect them, they would stop using it,” said Maymar.

Meta’s patent activity also shows that it’s working on building an open ecosystem of devices, whether that be headsets, smart glasses, or smartwatches that work together, pair with any device, and allow for easy development, Maymar noted. While Apple’s walled garden of protected devices attracts users for the privacy and ease of use, Meta’s devices may attract developers looking for a sandbox.

“I see a lot of value if Meta stays open or becomes even more open, so that you can modify the headset to do all sorts of really interesting things, and people are willing to pay for that,” he said. 

But of course, as it stands, Meta makes most of its money from advertising. Getting to know its consumers as intimately as this device suggests could allow it to tap into a “primal dataset,” Maymar said. “If you know their health and age and mindset, you will have a very, very effective sales target.”