On March 25th Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and founder of Facebook, Announced the acquisition of Oculus, maker of a prototype Virtual reality headset called the "Rift". While most analysts saw confusion and uncertainty in this acquisition, I am convinced that what Zuckerberg sees in Oculus is the next big thing. Virtual Reality gaming or looking at Facebook pages is only a small part of why he made this acquisition. We need look no further than Zuckerberg's words to see this is true. As quoted from Zuckerbergs Announcement of the acquisition:
"After games, we're going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. 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. ... One day, we believe this kind of immersive, augmented reality will become a part of daily life for billions of people."
From this paragraph it is obvious that he bought the company not just for the headsets current capabilities. I suggest that a simple hardware addition and a major software upgrade is necessary for Zuckerberg's stated vision to come true. Here are two clues that reveal his vision:
Notice that in this paragraph Zuckerberg mentioned, "immersive, augmented reality", with no mention Virtual reality. Augmented reality is not in the functionality of the current headset.
Zuckerberg mentioned going to doctors and sports arenas to see events using a headset. This is also not in the arena of virtual reality or in the current headset's functionality without a periphery 3D camera array. Streaming video from such an array would require enormous computing power and would generally only be useful for still image capture.
What the headset requires to comply with Zuckerbergs vision is as follows:
1. The headset will need a stereo/3D video camera exactly like the one their Canadian competitor, "True Player Gear Inc.", has. When Zuckerberg was talking about "enjoying a court side seat at a game", mustn't there be someone sitting court side at the game collecting/recording and broadcasting the experience? It would be similar to how I might share the experience with a friend on video chat or face time though my smart phone, but in 3D. The stereo/3D cameras would be mounted on the exterior surface of the headset one camera directly in front of each pupil of the wearer. Not only would the wearer be sharing the game. He would be sharing exactly how he views a game. Where he looks his friends look. What he sees his friends sees. The following links are mock ups of ways the Oculus Rift might be used. Note that in both examples there is are stereo/3D cameras attached to the headset:
Another Kickstarter fundraiser called, " castAR", has put together a video demonstrating some the possibilities of overlaying virtual reality with physical reality:
2. The device needs to be able to connect with the internet to transmit 3D real time data. Of coarse the device would be able to send the video stream to multiple viewers. Google conferencing is a good model for how this might work.
3. Like Google glass the device will have the option of overlaying augmented reality over 3D physical reality.
4. Like a video cam or a smart phone there will be a menu of options which will most certainly be activated and navigated by voice command. Interestingly Mike Lebeau left Google to start working at Facebook on April 1st. His expertise is in voice recognition and voice commands. In his words his job at Facebook will be, "starting and leading a super exciting new confidential project."
The exiting conclusions: Zuckerberg has launched a technology that will merge Augmented reality, Virtual Reality and physical reality. This convergence of realities is known as the 'Metaverse' an idea first introduced in Neal Stephenson's 1992 science fiction novel 'Snow Crash". The Oculus project has no direct relationship with the product known as Facebook. Oculus is now a division of Facebook which will design and manufacture the first commercially available metaverse headsets. These headsets will be sold worldwide through multiple distributors and will operate on multiple networks. No affiliation with Facebook will be needed to own or operate these devises. You will be able to use any search engine or website, that offers Virtual Reality, as a portal. Once in, you will be able to travel freely through the metaverse in the same way that, once you are online you can access any webpage. Therefore the headsets will be available in countries where Facebook is banned like China. Like Zuckerberg has predicted, the Metaverse will be the next big thing. The Oculus Rift will be Facebook's monetary equivalent to the iPhone. Get ready for the next revolution!
Disclosure: I am long FB.