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Facebook Wants Users to Embrace Social VR & the Metaverse

Update Oct. 29, 2021: In a video, Zuckerberg recently unveiled his plans for the company’s virtual reality-enabled metaverse, where users can come together via their avatars to explore, socialize, and play in a digitally rendered world.

A recent report in The Verge says Facebook plans to change its name to “Meta”, signifying the new direction the social media giant wants to take.

In the video, Zuckerberg officially announces this change, saying the company’s goals are still the same, which is “bringing people together”. Facebook and Meta’s other apps will also remain the same.

Watch Mark Zuckerberg talk about Meta’s plans for its Metaverse. Video by CNET

In an interview with CNET’s editor-at-large Scott Stein, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg talks about social VR and possible plans of making it integral to the Oculus Quest Pro.

With our current situation, where social distancing and isolation in our homes are the norm, our ability to socialize is limited to the digital sphere. We conduct meetings on video applications (mostly Zoom), and the people in closest proximity to us are only those in our household. 

Along with the new normal comes a new way of interacting with the people in our life. And Facebook’s plans might just help us cope with these necessary restrictions through enhanced virtual reality technology.

During his interview with Stein, Zuckerberg revealed Facebook’s ongoing research and plans to create “higher-end” VR experiences, one of which is the Oculus Quest Pro. The Oculus Quest Pro is “a device that could include new sensors — face and eye tracking or maybe even fitness — in a higher-end self-contained system,” CNET says. This upcoming Oculus Quest version could be “a little more expensive,” Zuckerberg noted.

The price for the Facebook-owned Oculus Quest, which the tech giant bought in 2014, was significantly reduced in an effort to draw a wider audience toward VR. In the fourth quarter of 2020, the Oculus Quest 2 sold over a million units, The Washington Post reports citing SuperData.

While Zuckerberg claims accessibility is still the goal for the Oculus Quest Pro, it appears Facebook’s top priority is to introduce the idea of normalizing social VR. 

Image credits to Canva

Facebook’s Goals for Social VR & Ongoing VR Projects

Living through a pandemic has given us a new appreciation for social interactions not occurring through our devices. While the technology available today allows us to see our friends and family remotely, the same technology doesn’t give us an impression of “closeness” in a spatial sense. 

Zuckerberg said the communication tools available to us now merely approximates “a sense of presence”. But with VR and AR, we can virtually replicate physical spaces that video applications are not able to. With this goal in mind, Facebook aims to branch out from the common application of VR, which Zuckerberg noted to be video gaming, to other relevant social spheres.

Virtually Social

When Facebook released Air Link, the VR experience of the Oculus Quest 2 was enhanced. The cable-free device allows users to move around as they are immersed in their virtually real gaming world. This is because it “[harnesses] the power of a computer’s GPU without a physical cable in place,” an article on Tom’s Guide, an online resource for product reviews, says. However, Facebook doesn’t intend for their ongoing projects to follow the same path.

According to Zuckerberg, they’re working on providing VR technology that allows users to interact with people in the virtual space. He posits it’s different from video conferences and online meetings because the new technology they’re working on should be able to simulate a “sense of space” where users are actually next or in front of each other in an almost real sense, not just on the screen.

Plans for Productivity, Fitness, & Education

In addition to social interactions, applicable in the workplace or in a casual setting, Zuckerberg said Facebook is also looking into fitness as a possible field their VR technology can explore. However, to elevate the health experience of a user with a VR device, Zuckerberg said there should be health sensors in place, which will require “higher- and higher-end devices.”

It’s unclear whether Facebook plans to add health sensor features in either the Oculus Quest Pro or a different VR project.

Another area Facebook plans to explore is creativity and productivity. Specifically, the group wants to provide a virtual space or “metaverse” where creative minds can collaborate and be productive. It’s unspecified whether it’s Facebook Horizon that Zuckerberg intends to be the metaverse in the future, although the premise for the social networking giant’s VR plans seems analogous to Facebook Horizon’s environment. Facebook Horizon is a virtual reality world where users can “explore, play and create.”

And lastly, when Stein asked whether education or eLearning was a possible route for the company to take, Zuckerberg said there is an opportunity to expand their VR system for those in higher education or those geared toward teens. However, because Facebook bars 13-year-olds and younger from using Facebook, and since the Oculus Quest now requires you to have a Facebook account, marketing to that age group can be tricky territory.

Image credits to Canva

Possible Features of Facebook Quest Pro Vis-a-vis Social VR

In Facebook’s plans to bring about the Quest Pro, the Facebook CEO said the new device should enhance a user’s VR experience. Here’s what was highlighted or mentioned in the interview:

  • Eye-tracking and face-tracking sensors
  • Wireless VR device

Zuckerberg explained it’s important for their VR technology to go wireless to prevent sacrificing the immersion users would ideally experience. “When you’re talking about virtual reality, in the sense of presence, there really is something that’s incredibly important about it being wireless,” Zuckerberg said in the interview. Tom’s Guide aptly writes, “[W]hat can a Quest Pro bring to the table?”

Based on Zuckerberg’s interview with CNET, it seems Facebook is planning to enhance its product with eye-tracking and face-tracking sensors. With eye-tracking sensors, the Oculus Quest Pro can easily detect a user’s eye movement, accurately depicting what’s on their line of vision. As for face-tracking, Tom’s Guide says the device can easily detect a user’s facial expressions, translating them to the virtual avatar.

In line with this technology, Zuckerberg also adds his thoughts on what could possibly be the future for AR technologies, too. With the company’s AR glasses in the works, the Facebook CEO said it’s possible for users to be interacting with holograms. When in conversation with someone from remote places, “you’ll be a hologram sitting on my couch next to me, rather than doing [an interview] over video or doing this over audio,” he said.

In Summary

During an interview, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave a glimpse of the company’s ongoing plans and research for its VR projects, including the Oculus Quest Pro. He emphasized the need for a social “metaverse” especially in the context of a pandemic where people are prohibited from regular social interactions.

Facebook is presently looking into different fields outside gaming for their VR-based projects. These include social, fitness, productivity, and education. Zuckerberg also said the group is looking into possible experience-enhancing features for the Oculus Quest Pro, such as eye-tracking and face-tracking sensors. These aim to help users feel more immersed in the virtual environment as they attempt to closely mimic physical presence.

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Note: This article was originally published in May 2021 and updated in October 2021.