Facebook invests $250m more in VR as Zuckerberg shows off wireless Oculus

The company’s virtual reality wing will spend another $250m to develop new content, as CEO says the future of VR will be social

Facebook is to invest another $250m in developing content for virtual reality (VR) applications, founder Mark Zuckerberg announced at its Oculus Connect 3 developer conference in San Jose on Thursday.

Facebook has already invested $250m in developing VR content, and said his goal was to quickly bring about his vision of the future connecting people all over the world through virtual experiences.

“We should [all] build software and experiences that follow the way our minds work and the way we process the world,” he suggested to the 2,000-strong audience.

Zuckerberg also demonstrated a new prototype for a wireless version of its Oculus Rift headset. The standalone device would not need cables to connect to a PC – a problem that has limited the potential of some VR applications involving more movement. A standalone would be a significant third type of VR device between the more powerful wired PC options, and less powerful but more mobile smartphone versions. He noted a sharp difference between the two options.

The Oculus prototype uses a camera so that the software can determine the position of the user – a technique Zuckerberg called “inside-out tracking”. Current systems rely on cameras and sensors around the room to do the same thing. Zuckerberg said the technology is still under development, but claimed that it can already track users down to within a single millimeter.

Google revealed its own standalone VR headset two days earlier.

Zuckerberg also demonstrated some new applications, including one that presented himself as an avatar. While in the program, Zuckerberg used Oculus’s Touch handset to control a virtual selfie stick, and took a picture of himself and his wife Priscilla Chan. He then shared the virtual image on his Facebook page with a single hand movement.

A journalist tests out Oculus goggles during a press demonstration in San Francisco.
A journalist tests out Oculus goggles during a press demonstration in San Francisco. Photograph: Gabrielle Lurie/AFP/Getty Images

While Zuckerberg’s company Facebook now has over a billion active monthly users, the CEO noted Oculus’s system currently has more than a little less. The Oculus platform currently has about a million active users.

Despite the modest userbase of the virtual reality platform – which has yet to demonstrate mainstream appeal – Zuckerberg claims that the future of virtual reality will be social, stating that four of the top mobile applications in the world today are social, including Facebook and Instagram.

Towards the end of his 10-minute talk, Zuckerberg mentioned there will be a dedicated section in the Oculus store for educational content and that developers in contact with Facebook and Oculus will have access to a $10m fund specifically for educational content.

Zuckerberg said that he had given demonstrations of Oculus several times around the world, including to heads of state.

Eric Florenzano, a VR engineer and former senior software engineer at Twitter, said the announcement of inside-out tracking could have potential as a new product category. “It might change VR because it continues [the process] of untethering you,” he said. “If the device can track your position in a room, you could leave the room where the device is and even walk outside. It starts to blur the line between virtual and augmented reality.”

In previous talks, Oculus’s chief scientist Michael Abrash has said that moving to augmented reality is part of the long-term future of the platform as it becomes more connected to the real world. Zuckerberg said the prototype provided a form of “augmented virtual reality”.

Oculus demonstrated how users can create their own avatar, though it was more realistic than the one shown off by Zuckerberg. Called simply Avatar, the program will launch alongside the Oculus Touch handsets in December, and will help people create digital versions of themselves with a kind of liquid-metal appearance. A new software development kit (SDK) that will allow developers to integrate the avatars into their own games so people can “feel like themselves” when they play. The avatars will be available on mobile in 2017.

A participant at Oculus Connect 3 tries out the Avatar program on an Oculus headset.
A participant at Oculus Connect 3 tries out the Avatar program on an Oculus headset. Photograph: Jose Fermoso/The Guardian

Liam Devine, an executive at VR Robotica whose application already helps make avatars, said the Oculus app will help the development of his own product and was confident it won’t cannibalize his work. “It’s great!” he said.

Oculus will release two social apps: Parties and Rooms. The Parties application allows up to eight people to meet and chat in VR. Rooms puts users together in a shared space where they can play games, watch TV or do other group activities. The idea isn’t completely new: the application AltSpace VR already lets users meet up in a virtual space.

Another feature announced was asynchronous time warp, a promised computer-based feature that helps with the frame-rate jumping and glitching that causes problems in most VR systems.

Oculus also introduced its diversity lead Ebony Peay Ramirez, who has brought in 100 developers of diverse backgrounds to work with the company on new applications including the game Starship Disco, where players kill aliens to a cool musical beat. “We know that a platform that is built with diverse thought is a more engaging one,” she said.

One person was conspicuously absent: Oculus founder Palmer Luckey, who has spent the past two weeks explaining why he gave a group of alt-right Reddit users $10,000 to repost smear stories about the Democratic presidential nominee online – a practice known as “shit-posting”.

Jose Fermoso in San Jose, California

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
How Facebook plans to take over the world
Social network went from digital directory for college kids to communications behemoth – and it’s planning for prosperity with its global takeover

Olivia Solon in San Francisco

23, Apr, 2016 @11:00 AM

Article image
Enter the metaverse: the digital future Mark Zuckerberg is steering us toward
The company, now rebranded Meta, already has a foothold in the digital world. How far will it go to see it succeed?

Dan Milmo Global technology editor

28, Oct, 2021 @7:14 PM

Article image
Mark Zuckerberg on Charlottesville: Facebook will remove violent threats
CEO says Facebook is ‘watching closely’ and will ‘take down threats of physical harm’, joining raft of tech companies purging white nationalists and neo-Nazis

Julia Carrie Wong in San Francisco

17, Aug, 2017 @12:20 AM

Article image
Facebook's Oculus reveals stand-alone virtual reality headset
Oculus Go will not require linking to a smartphone or personal computer like its predecessor, the Oculus Rift, and will cost less at $199

Olivia Solon and agencies

11, Oct, 2017 @11:12 PM

Article image
Facebook F8: Zuckerberg shows off chat bots, VR... and a dig at Donald Trump
The Facebook CEO criticized Trump’s ‘fearful’ anti-immigration rhetoric at the annual F8 developer event: ‘Instead of building walls we can help build bridges’

Danny Yadron and Jemima Kiss in San Francisco

13, Apr, 2016 @6:51 AM

Article image
Mark Zuckerberg challenges Trump on immigration and 'extreme vetting' order
The Facebook CEO used his own page to criticize Donald Trump’s executive order that will severely limit immigrants from certain Muslim-majority countries

Julia Carrie Wong

28, Jan, 2017 @1:34 AM

Article image
Mark Zuckerberg joins tech bosses in supporting Obama on immigration
The tech industry says the ‘ingenuity, skill and entrepreneurial spirit’ of immigrants is good for the US economy, and is backing Barack Obama

Danny Yadron in San Francisco

09, Mar, 2016 @2:35 AM

Article image
Zuckerberg to meet Glenn Beck and Trump rep after Facebook news woes
Facebook CEO will meet with a senior Trump adviser and several influential conservatives, but Breitbart News said it has ‘zero interest in a photo-op’

Danny Yadron in San Francisco

16, May, 2016 @9:39 PM

Article image
Zuckerberg and Obama discuss startups, 'nerd cool' and Brexit at conference
The president called startups ‘the upside of an interconnected world’ when he joined founders at Stanford University for an entrepreneurship conference Friday

Danny Yadron in Stanford, California

24, Jun, 2016 @9:52 PM

Article image
Facebook's fake news: Mark Zuckerberg rejects 'crazy idea' that it swayed voters
Those who think fake news is why someone voted for Trump show ‘profound lack of empathy’ and fail to internalize the president-elect’s message, he said

Olivia Solon in San Francisco

11, Nov, 2016 @3:01 AM