Facebook is an inherently social company and thus believes that it can change the usual perception users have of VR. One usually wears a VR headset for the purpose of blocking out the real world so as to be able to enter a virtual one. This is a kind of anti-social activity, and therefore, the social networking giant demoed “social VR” at its F8 developer conference on Wednesday.
Virtual reality is not anti-social
Social VR stands for connecting two or more people in a virtual world. Standing on a stage in front of a live audience in San Francisco, Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer put on one of Facebook’s Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets and “teleported” to London where he met another Facebook employee who was wearing a headset of his own at the company’s Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters. Though the two didn’t actually meet in reality, the VR headsets allowed them to chat and experience London together through their digital avatars. The audience was very amused when the two took a selfie and shared it directly to a Facebook page.
Facebook product manager Mike Beltzer said that at present, the company is thinking about social VR in this manner. There are two teams at Facebook working on building social VR tools. The teams have already created VR scenes with five real people interacting at once.
What has Facebook planned for VR?
Facebook has not made a public release of these features, but it is showing them off with the hope of better conveying how it sees virtual reality evolving. The idea is to make it possible for users to perform several social activities such as playing cards with their friends, visiting their parents in another state or enjoying a concert with their siblings, all while being at their home, and this can be possible with VR.
The head of Oculus research, Yaser Sheikh, explained on stage Wednesday, “Proximity will no longer determine with whom people spend their time with.”
Making the avatars feel as real as possible is one of the key challenges the company is facing. The avatars look like cartoons or Sims characters at present, but the company intends to makethem more personal. One possible idea, according to Beltzner, is using a mobile phone to scan a user’s face and head.
“You want to be able to scan yourself pretty quickly and have your own self in there,” the executive said.