Facebook’s New Bet on Virtual Reality: Conference Rooms


SAN FRANCISCO — The idea that virtual reality would go mainstream has remained for years: virtual.

While tech giants like Facebook and Sony have spent billions of dollars perfecting the experience, virtual reality has remained a niche toy for hobbyists often willing to pay thousands of dollars for a bulky VR headset connected to a powerful gaming PC.

That changed during the pandemic last year. as people they lived most of their lives digitally, they started to buy more VR headsets. VR hardware sales increased, Facebook’s Oculus Quest 2, a headset introduced last fall, according to research firm IDC.

To build the momentum, Facebook on Thursday introduced a virtual reality service called Horizon Workrooms. The product, which can be downloaded for free for Quest 2 owners, offers a virtual meeting room where people using headphones can meet as if they were in a face-to-face business meeting. Participants join with a customizable cartoon avatar of themselves. Interactive virtual whiteboards line the walls so people can write and draw just as they would in a physical conference room.

The product is another step towards what Facebook sees as the ultimate form of social connection for its 3.5 billion users. “One way or another, I think we’re going to live in a mixed reality future,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at a virtual reality media roundtable this week using Workrooms.

At the event, avatars of Mr. Zuckerberg and about a dozen Facebook employees, reporters and technical support staff gathered in what appeared to be an open and well-lit virtual conference room. Mr. Zuckerberg’s avatar wore a dark Facebook blue long sleeve henley shirt. (My avatar featured a checkered red flannel shirt.) Nobody worries about choosing a pair of pants, as the Study Rooms only show participants as floating bodies sitting around a wooden table.

Facebook was early for virtual reality. paid $2 billion in 2014 buy headset startup Oculus VR. Meanwhile, Mr. Zuckerberg promise He said technology will enable you to “experience the impossible.”

The deal kicked off a wave of acquisitions and financing in virtual reality. As investments in VR start-ups have increased, companies like HTC and Sony have also promised VR headsets for the masses. developed by Microsoft HoloLenshologram projection glasses.

But the hype quickly gushed. The first generation of most VR hardware was expensive, including Facebook’s Oculus Rift. Almost all headsets required users to be connected to a personal computer. There were no obvious “killer apps” to lure people into devices. Worse, some people felt nauseous after using the products.

The next generation of VR headsets is focused on cutting costs. Samsung’s Gear VRGoogle Cardboard and Google Daydream have asked consumers to put on their glasses and leave their smartphones to use as VR displays. These efforts also failed because smartphones were not powerful enough to offer an immersive virtual reality experience.

CEO Nick Fajt says, “People always ask me, ‘Which VR headset should I buy?’ he was asking.” registration room, a popular video game among virtual reality enthusiasts. “And I would always reply, ‘Just wait’.”

To adapt, some companies have started to offer virtual reality for narrower spaces, not the masses. Magic Leap, a startup that promotes itself as the next big thing in augmented reality computing has turned to selling VR devices to businesses. Microsoft went in a similar direction by focusing on one specific issue. military contractseven though he says it is “definitely” still works a main consumer product.

In 2017, even Mr. Zuckerberg said Facebook’s bet on Oculus “takes a little longer” more than you originally thought.

Facebook spent the next few years researching and developing it by eliminating the need for a tethered cable connecting the VR headset to the PC, freeing up the user’s range of motion while keeping the device powerful enough to provide a feeling of virtual immersion.

He’s also worked on “inside-out tracking,” a way to track a VR headset’s position relative to its surroundings, writing new algorithms that are more energy efficient and don’t drain a device’s battery power too quickly.

There are 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, said Atman Binstock, chief architect of Oculus. Improvements in SLAM monitoring have helped developers create more interactive digital worlds.

The changes led to the $299 Quest 2 last year; this did not require the use of a PC or other bulky hardware and was relatively simple to set up.

Facebook isn’t revealing sales figures for Oculus, but revenue from headsets more than doubled in the first three months of Quest 2’s availability. Facebook has sold five to six million of the headphones, analysts estimated.

This was roughly the same amount sold for Sony’s PlayStation VR, which is considered the most successful VR device on the market. 2016 until 2020, when he made his debut. (Sony has announced a new virtual reality system. PlayStation 5, flagship game console.)

Andrew Bosworth, vice president of Facebook Reality Labs, who heads the Oculus product division, said Facebook pays developers tens of millions of dollars to help build games and other apps for VR. “Even if it was tough for all of VR in 2016, the developers needed us to remove some of the risk,” he said in an interview.

Oculus has also acquired several game studios such as BigBox VR, Beat Games and Sanzaru Games, and other VR-based companies to create more virtual reality content.

With Workrooms, Facebook wants to take Oculus beyond gaming. The service aims to provide a sense of presence with other people, even if they are sitting on the other side of the world.

Mr. Zuckerberg sees the project as part of the next internet, where technologists “metadata storeAccording to Mr. Zuckerberg’s narrative, the metaverse is a world where people can communicate through VR or other devices such as video calling, smartphones or tablets, or smart glasses or gadgets that have yet to be invented.

There, people will maintain some sense of continuity between all the different digital worlds in which they live. For example, someone might purchase a digital avatar of a shirt from a virtual reality store and then log out but continue to wear that shirt in a Zoom meeting.

For now, that vision remains distant. VR adoption can be measured with tens of millions of users compared to billions of smartphone owners. Facebook also stumbled upon and issued a recall on the Quest 2’s foam pad covers this year after some users reported skin irritation. The company has offered all Quest 2 owners new, free silicone-filled cases.

At the Workrooms event attended by journalists this week, Mr. Zuckerberg spoke, but at one point he had to leave and rejoin the room because his digital avatar’s mouth wouldn’t move when he spoke.

After the glitch was fixed and his avatar’s mouth started to move, Mr. Zuckerberg said, “The technology that gives you this sense of presence is like the holy grail of social experiences, and I think a company like ours was designed to do it over time.” again. “My hope is that in the coming years people will start thinking of us not really as a social media company but as a ‘metaverse’ company with a real sense of presence.”


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