Facebook Unveils New Collection of Virtual Reality Advances

At Oculus Connect, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and AR/VR head Anthony Bosworth showed the next version of the Oculus Quest, which will offer hand-tracking without controllers or external sensors. Also unveiled is Horizon, a new form of social VR to rival VRChat and Rec Room; it will go into a closed beta in early 2020. Horizon provides tools for the user to build her own environments where people can congregate for multiplayer games. Other long-term plans include AR glasses, Live Maps and “shared spaces.”

Wired reports that Facebook Reality Labs head Michael Abrash also detailed some of his unit’s most interesting work, including the progress on Half Dome, “a prototype headset boasting a varifocal display, which allows the human eye to focus naturally by presenting objects at differing perceived distances.” The latest version, it says, “uses six liquid-crystal lenses that fire on and off to present up to 64 different focal planes.” The Labs showed work in room reconstruction via “a real-time fly-through of physical spaces that had been fully virtualized” and codec avatars.

Abrash also “announced an internal project to develop a fully featured collaborative AR/VR prototype that people could wear for hours each day, uniting from various remote locations to create a virtual workplace.” “This is still high-risk research at best,” he said, “but we will keep at it until we get there.”

TechCrunch reports on Facebook Horizon, which it dubs “a virtual reality sandbox universe … [and] Facebook’s take on Second Life.” Users can design their own avatars from a set of tools and “hop between virtual locales through portals called Telepods, watch movies and consume other media with friends” as well as play games.

On October 25, Facebook will shut down Facebook Spaces and Oculus Rooms, in advance of Horizon’s launch. An object creator “akin to the Oculus Medium sculpting feature” lets the user “make anything” and there are also visual scripting tools for “more serious developers.” Horizon Locals — a mix of customer support and monitors for technical and safety issues — roam the VR landscape.

With regard to monetization, “it’s easy to imagine Horizon including virtual billboards for brands, Facebook-run shops for buying toys or home furnishings, third-party malls full of branded Nikes or Supreme shirts that score Zuckerberg a revenue cut or subscriptions to access certain gaming worlds or premium planets to explore.”

VentureBeat reports on “Oculus Link, a hardware/software solution that will enable the Quest to display Rift games from a PC.” The hand-tracking, set to debut in early 2020 as an experimental feature for consumers and SDK for developers, relies on AI to help the VR/AR system “recognize the shapes of hands and individual fingers, interpreting gestures as input commands.” Although controller-less hand-tracking isn’t new, “achieving the same functionality in software could be a big deal for Oculus.”

Elsewhere, TechCrunch reveals the new Half Dome 2 “is optimized for weight and size significantly shrinking down the form factor of the previous prototype while reducing the weight by 200 grams … [and] shrinking the 140-degree field-of-view of the first design, though the company says the headset will still boast a FoV that’s 20 percent wider than the Rift.”

Oculus Is Trying to Make the Quest the Only Home Headset That Matters, The Verge, 9/27/19
Oculus Quest’s Hand Tracking Is a New Level of VR Immersion, Engadget, 9/27/19