Oculus VR Acquisition Moves Facebook into Virtual Reality Field
- Jason Galliger
- On March 26, 2014
The Internet of the future won’t be experienced on desktop computers or mobile phones, but through a pair of virtual-reality (VR) goggles. At least that’s what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants to happen.
Yesterday, Facebook announced that it was purchasing Oculus VR, the startup company behind the Oculus Rift, for $2 billion.
The Oculus Rift, a pair of VR goggles, completely immerses users into a 3D virtual world that surrounds the user’s field of vision while built-in motion sensors track movement and shift the perspective accordingly. See the video below for an example:
Oculus VR previously released developer kits of the hardware, but had yet to release a product to the public. The acquisition by Facebook provides a huge boost in available cash and resources for the company. According to reports, Oculus VR will operate autonomously within Facebook similar to Instagram and WhatsApp.
“Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face — just by putting on goggles in your home,” Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post.
Virtual reality has long been the dream of tech-fanatics ever since appearing on Star Trek and in the works of William Gibson. Previous attempts to bring the technology to mass market, specifically in the gaming space, have been fraught with issues, such as adoption barriers and the price of components. However, the spread of mobile devices has made high-definition screens and other components much cheaper, which has resolved many of the problems.
Indeed the technology presents boundless possibilities. Being able to “teleport” into lecture halls around the globe to learn from the best minds in their field; beaming into a concert hours away with your friends as virtual VIPs; fighting hordes of zombies with just your rusty shovel or logging onto a car manufacturers website to check out their latest model while taking your dream test drive. All are virtual frontiers to conquer.
Despite this, some think that integrating Facebook with virtual reality might be a step too far. The immersive social experience Zuckerberg envisions is one that has been in the VR discussion for the last 30 years. VR, often a solitary experience, literally requires users to strap a device onto your head, cutting off all sensory inputs from the outside world. Industry experts point toward Second Life, the virtual world that received a large amount of hype in the early 2000s, as a cautionary tale. The idea of using this platform to sell virtual goods and services, while seeming to be a certainty in the future, remains far off. And there is still an even larger problem: if the company does succeed in fusing social interactions into VR, interactions that Zuckerberg likens to “virtual teleporting,” people still may be uncomfortable with using the device at all.
There is foreignness and uncertainty in using a device made of monitors, circuits and screens as replacements for our own sensory hardware. How much will children of the future use this device? Will they begin to forgo their real-world experiences for virtual ones? What are the ethics of advertising in this space? Will it resemble, like this Verge article suggested, corporate-sponsored digital worlds offering incredible adventures all the for price of a little product placement?
Regardless of the debate surrounding VR, it is a tantalizing space for the human imagination. It could very well be the next huge technology interface and, like mobile, could be utilized by developers from all industries.
The question is — Which company will conquer it first?
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