Facebook to launch social virtual reality experiences using Oculus Rift

Sharing birthday celebrations or a child’s first bike ride in virtual reality could become a thing if Facebook gets its way with new Oculus Rift headset

Facebook is aiming to use the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset to create a more immersive social experience through the company’s communications tools.

In the first explanation of what Facebook intends to do with its $2bn purchase that has puzzled some investors and analysts, the company told developers at its F8 conference in San Francisco that it will help create a more lifelike and useful social network.

“After thousands of demos we know we are just on the cusp, just getting there to get that sense of presence where for a moment your conscious brain is overruled by the subconscious that says: ‘You are not where you think you are,’” Facebook’s chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer said during his on-stage talk on the second day of the 2-day conference.

Virtual reality headsets such as the Oculus Rift and Samsung’s Gear VR have launched with a focus on video games and entertainment, but Schroepfer and other Facebook executives attempted to convince attendees that the gadgets could transform how people communicate.

Oculus Rift’s founder and chief executive Palmer Luckey has said in the past that Facebook in its current form wasn’t a good fit for virtual reality.

“Looking at a larger than life News Feed or someone’s photos in VR isn’t interesting. It needs to be new experience. I don’t think it’s going to be Facebook the social network in VR, but people are narcissists and they want people to see what they think are their amazing lives,” he said at International CES in Las Vegas in January.

One example given of these “new experiences” was an event such as a birthday party or a child’s first bike ride that could be shared on Facebook so that users in different parts of the world felt as if they were taking part.

“Their mission is to connect the world and VR teleports people into a different place,” said Vlada Bortnik, the founder of app-maker Happy Bits, at the conference.

Facebook said the Oculus headset will be released “before long,” but did not provide a timeframe. Samsung’s Gear VR, which was built in partnership with Oculus Rift, was released to consumers through the electronics chain Best Buy in the US on Friday, becoming the first VR headset to be available beyond developers and early adopters to the mass market.

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Contributor

Samuel Gibbs and agencies

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