Facebook is usually in the news for privacy concerns or the latest chain letter, but recently the social media giant and its commander-in-chief Mark Zuckerberg have been in the spotlight for another reason. When Facebook bought VR company Oculus in 2014, it also inherited the lawsuit that accused it of stealing components that were vital in the creation of its virtual reality headset. In spite of expectations of an out-of-court settlement, the lawsuit made it to trial in January 2017.

Zuckerberg has already stated he thinks it will take another five to 10 years before virtual reality is where it actually needs to be, so why is he so interested in making VR the next big platform for home computing?

Facebook FB Stock

The Setup

Oculus has been around since 2012, but it wasn’t until the announcement that Facebook was planning on purchasing the VR startup that ZeniMax Media accused Oculus of stealing research and intellectual property that was integral in the creation of the Oculus Rift headset. ZeniMax is seeking approximately $2 billion in damages, which coincidently is the same amount Facebook just paid to purchase Oculus.

As the trial has just started, we’ll have to wait to see how it’s going to play out, but that still doesn’t answer the question that’s on everyone’s mind: Why is Zuckerberg so interested in VR in the first place?

The Investment

Zuckerberg, in his statement at the Oculus – ZeniMax trial, mentioned that a good stable VR platform will take several years to complete. With that in mind, on top of the $2 billion Facebook has spent to acquire Oculus and an additional $1 billion that was spent to retain the company’s current employees, Zuckerberg is expecting to invest more than $3 billion to make virtual reality accessible to millions of users.

With a planned investment of that size, it leaves us wondering what he might have up his sleeve to get VR off the ground.

The Risks

While everyone is excited to see virtual reality technology advance, very few people have stopped to think about what this video game experience is doing to our eyes or our brains. This excludes any injuries that users might experience when using a virtual reality headset – concussions from tripping over your feet because you can’t see them don’t count.

Many people who put on a virtual reality headset for the first time often report that they experience nausea, headaches or eye strain even after the headset had been removed. This is often because of the way a VR headset presents visual information.

Normally, your eyes provide two different views of the same image that are composited by the brain.  That’s why something you’re looking at might seem to move if you cover an eye and why closing one eye when you’re aiming screws up your targeting. VR headsets provide two similar but different images and the eyes can have trouble processing them into something the brain can understand. The proper term for this is known as vergence-accommodation conflict and is usually what causes the uncomfortable aftereffects caused by VR headsets.

Because the technology is fairly new, there have not been any studies completed that look into the long-term effects of VR usage.

The Payoff

Even with the risks, what are Zuckerberg and Facebook getting out of this multibillion-dollar investment? In a nutshell, they want to make virtual reality social, in much the same way Facebook helped shape the social media environment. It might seem like putting on a headset is a great way to tune out your friends but not the best way to hang out with them. Facebook wants to change that by creating virtual hangouts and places where you can spend time with your friends online, in a more personal an immersive way. Think of it as Facebook 2.0.

While it’s not the same experience as hanging out with your buddies in real life, it could potentially provide a great alternative to hanging out by yourself all the time.

There’s no telling how far these virtual reality enhancements could go, with the brilliant minds of Oculus funded by the seemingly endless pockets of Facebook. Virtual reality is already starting to revolutionize other markets, such as health care and rehabilitation, so it’s only a matter of time before it changes the way we socialize as well.

Article by Kayla Matthews