Facebook Steps into Workplace VR with Horizon Workrooms

During the COVID-19 pandemic, IDC reported that Facebook sold more Oculus Quest 2 VR headsets than before. Now Facebook offers Quest 2 owners Horizon Workrooms, a free VR service that offers virtual meeting rooms. Users can participate with a customized cartoon avatar and the room offers virtual white boards for drawing and writing, a step towards what chief executive Mark Zuckerberg dubs the “mixed-reality future” for its 3.5 billion users. Zuckerberg introduced Workrooms in VR with employees and reporters in attendance.

The New York Times reports that the VR meeting took place in “what looked like an open and well-lit virtual conference room” and avatars are seen “only as floating torsos seated around a wooden desk.” Since Facebook bought Oculus VR for $2 billion in 2014, “investment in VR startups swelled, while companies like HTC and Sony also promised VR headsets for the masses.”

The next generation featured Samsung’s Gear VR, Google Cardboard and Google Daydream, which relied on smartphones. Although they were inexpensive, they couldn’t “deliver an immersive virtual reality experience.” Magic Leap and Microsoft began focusing on enterprise or government markets.

Facebook focused on inside-out-tracking and untethered headsets, and Oculus chief architect Atman Binstock said that, “there were also improvements in simultaneous localization and mapping, or ‘SLAM tracking,’ which allows a VR device to understand the unmapped space around itself while also recognizing its own position within that space,” making it easier to build more interactive digital worlds.

Last year, Facebook released the $299 Quest 2; analysts estimate the company has sold five to six million of these headsets, with revenue more than doubling over the first three months of its availability.

According to Facebook Reality Labs vice president Andrew Bosworth, Facebook “also paid tens of millions of dollars to developers to help create games and other apps for VR … even when it was tough for all of VR in 2016.” To pump up content, Oculus bought “several gaming studios and other VR-based companies, like BigBox VR, Beat Games and Sanzaru Games.”

Zuckerberg “sees the project as part of the next Internet, one that technologists call ‘the metaverse’ … [where] people will maintain some sense of continuity between all the different digital worlds they inhabit.” For now, says NYT, “that vision remains distant … [as] VR adoption can be measured in the tens of millions of users, compared with the billions of owners of smartphones.”

CNET reports on the experience of being a reporter at the virtual press conference introducing Workrooms. The reporter states that, “Facebook employees have been using Workrooms internally for the last six months.” He says the experience was “pretty fascinating” as well as “compelling” and “weird … [when] Zuckerberg’s mouth animation stopped working at one point, and he had to drop off and come back.”

“The wildest part was that the app maps to my actual desk, and the keyboard of my computer was able to project into the meeting room, along with my computer screen (which no one else could see but me, unless I chose to share it with others),” he says. “It felt like a taste of mixed reality in VR.” He added that he “felt VR fatigue after an hour in the meeting.”

For more details, visit the Facebook Newsroom.

Facebook to Bring Voice and Video Calling to Main App, Reuters, 8/23/21

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