According to Bloomberg, “people familiar with the matter” have revealed that the device is in the prototype phase, but is already being tested in people’s homes.
The new device is said to feature a laptop-sized touchscreen with a wide-angled camera lens, microphones and speakers that are all powered by artificial intelligence to boost performance.
It would mean that video chat participants separated by geography would feel like they’re sharing the same space and, according to Bloomberg’s sources, the project therefore aligns with Facebook’s mission of bringing people closer together.
For example, one of its features would allow the camera to automatically scan for people or objects within its range and lock onto them – this might include a painting that a child brought home from school that could be shown to a parent away on a business trip.
Facebook is also reported to be testing a 360-dgree camera for the device, which may run on a version of Android, although that won’t be ready in time for the initial launch.
According to Darrell Etherington, a technology writer at TechCrunch, a video chat device could “make sense” for Facebook in at least a couple of ways.
Firstly, it could “lower the friction of video chat to make it accessible to a broad user base, rather than making it an additional service that requires logins and apps on platforms designed for general purpose use,” he explained.
“Plus, it could integrate with Facebook Messenger, making the chat platform even more of a default option for broad communication, and helping it grow as a customer service transaction platform at the same time.”
And in a separate development, Facebook is reported to be working on a standalone smart speaker, similar to Amazon Echo and Google Home, after hiring former Apple staff to build a voice assistant like Siri.
Data sourced from Bloomberg, TechCrunch; additional content by WARC staff