October 28, 2021 – Today at Facebook Connect, Facebook’s annual conference on all things augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), it is quite clear that the company is going all-in on its metaverse ambitions, as this was the main theme of today’s event. Described by company CEO Mark Zuckerberg as “An embodied internet where you are in the experience, not just looking at it”, Facebook’s idea of the metaverse is one where almost anything is possible, and interacting with people and experiences in the metaverse is going to be as simple as clicking a link on the internet.
Zuckerberg stated: “We believe the metaverse will be the successor to the mobile internet. We’ll be able to feel present, like we are right there with people, no matter how apart we actually are. We’ll be able to express ourselves in new, joyful, completely immersive ways, and that is going to unlock a lot of amazing new experiences.”
So, to summarize how Facebook is working towards these amazing new experiences, we have tried to condense what would otherwise be several separate articles into one, and broken down the highlights of today’s Facebook Connect conference.
Horizon Home and Horizon Worlds
Horizon Home is the first thing users will see when they put on their Quest headset. Until now, it has just been referred to as simply ‘Home’. According to Facebook, this is because it has been missing something very important – people. As a result, Facebook will soon be introducing a social version of Home, where users will be able to invite their friends to join them as avatars, hang out, watch videos together, and jump into apps together. Horizon Worlds on the other hand will be where users can build their own worlds and jump into them with other people. Overall, the Horizon platform is designed to make it possible for everyone to create.
Beyond Horizon, Facebook is also making it easier for users to communicate with their friends across different layers of reality by bringing Messenger calls to VR this year. It will be these sorts of tools that Facebook states will need to be built in order to allow users to jump into the metaverse with their friends from anywhere.
3D digital objects and Horizon Marketplace
With SparkAR, Facebook is building tools that creators can use to place digital objects into the physical world and let people interact with them. Furthermore, new creator capabilities will support 3D objects that respond and react realistically, including a realistic sense of depth and occlusion.
Horizon Marketplace will be where creators can sell and share 3D digital items. The company’s hope is that this will enable a lot more commerce, and will help to grow the overall metaverse economy.
One of the most important aspects to metaverse gaming is going to be ‘live service games’, which will release new downloadable content regularly, according to Facebook. Games such as Beat Saber and Population: One were highlighted as examples. It’s not just existing titles that were covered though – new launches to the Oculus gaming lineup will include Blade & Sorcery: Nomad, as well as Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which is currently being developed for Quest 2. More gaming updates will be announced in the 2022 Oculus Gaming showcase.
Later this year, room customization will be coming to Horizon Workrooms, along with a new office space in Horizon Home. Facebook is also announcing 2D progressive web apps for the Quest store, bringing more of people’s 2D internet services into the metaverse. This means that users will be able to check programs like Dropbox and Slack whilst in VR.
The company is also working towards allowing users to log into their Quest device with an account other than their personal Facebook account, and will be starting to test support for work accounts soon. Overall, the company believes that working and learning in the metaverse is going to be a huge step forward. As a result, Facebook is also setting aside USD $150 million to train the next generation of creators to build immersive learning content.
Facebook expects to invest many billions of dollars for years to come before the metaverse reaches scale. The company’s hope though, is that within the next decade, the metaverse will reach one billion people, host hundreds of billions of dollars of digital commerce, and support jobs for millions of creators and developers.
Facebook has announced its ‘Presence Platform’, a suite of machine perception and AI capabilities — including Passthrough, Spatial Anchors, and Scene Understanding — that will let developers build more realistic mixed reality, interaction, and voice experiences that seamlessly blend virtual content with a user’s physical world.
New high-end Virtual Reality headset with Project Cambria
Another notable announcement from today’s Connect event was the unveiling of the company’s next-generation all-in-one VR hardware, which it is referring to as ‘Project Cambria’. The new device will be launching next year, however, Facebook pointed out that it won’t be a Quest 2 replacement, or a Quest 3. Instead, Project Cambria will be a high-end device at a higher price point, and will include things such as color passthrough, pancake optics, improved social presence (via natural eye contact and accurate reflection of facial expressions), and more.
The company anticipates the experiences that developers will create with its Presence Platform (which includes Passthrough API, improved hand and voice interactions, and more), will benefit massively from improved hardware, which is where Project Cambria will come in.
Augmented Reality with Project Nazare
‘Project Nazare’ is the codename for Facebook’s first full augmented reality glasses. Outlining all the complications that come with designing a pair of AR glasses, Zuckerberg stated that the company still has a ways to go with Nazare, but is nonetheless “making good progress”. In a blog post, the company added that Project Nazare is “still a few years out.”
The company has stated that it is going to take about a dozen major technological breakthroughs in order to get to the next generation metaverse, and it is working on all of them. These include: displays, audio, input, haptics, hand tracking, eye tracking, mixed reality, sensors, graphics, computer vision, avatars, perceptual science, artificial intelligence, and more.
Part of this work includes photorealistic avatars, which are nicely demonstrated in the below video from Facebook Reality Labs. The technology is currently still only research, but it definitely demonstrates the level of extremely high fidelity that virtual avatars are going to be able to reach.
Overall, LOTS of big news from the company today, and Facebook is clearly the first of the Silicon Valley tech giants to make its metaverse ambitions known. In fact, it is so committed to the metaverse, that Facebook has now changed its name to ‘Meta’. More on that here.
Image / video credit: Meta (formerly Facebook) / YouTube