The Virtual Reality revolution is already underway, with big players like Facebook Oculus, HTC, Sony PlayStation, Microsoft and Samsung developing and shipping VR headsets and content. However, most of the VR content available today is 360 degree video and VR games. There are barely any productivity on convenience related content in virtual reality as yet. But Facebook has a plan already in place, and it is very appealing.
At the day 2 keynote of Facebook’s developer conference ‘F8’, Mike Schroepfer (CTO of Facebook) gave a demo of social presence in virtual reality. Watch this short video that summarises the demo:
Cool, huh? Although the experience isn't as realistic as meeting a person in real life, it is a huge step up from flat screen video calling. The ability to interact with people by actually moving hands, holding virtual objects and using them as virtual tools enables an all new form of virtual communication. Human communication has always involved facial expressions and body language, both of which can be experienced in VR presence.
What will this mean in real life? You can have virtually-real meetings across the world in the same day without travelling, virtually be present at an important event that you would have otherwise missed, and share and collaborate with tools in the exact same way you would use them in real life. This proves distance to be no barrier for communication. In the future, expect virtual events where multiple people located miles apart meet, play and communicate without any real medium of presence.
Virtual social presence has three main parts - the capturing, the transmission and the displaying. With high speed fibre optic and wireless communication, in addition to Facebook's efforts in the arena, the transmission part of the equation is solved. VR headsets enable the display of the transmitted media. However, the biggest challenge is capturing the body itself! The idea of capturing facial expressions and body language seems simple but is extremely complicated technologically. Only with the help of multiple cameras capturing all angles of a body with great accuracy can render humanly acceptable input. This is neither economically feasible nor practical, and it definitely isn’t perfect to completely replicate your presence. Facebook is now researching for techniques to achieve high quality input, but the technology is far from developed.
Well, we now know a future aspect of virtual reality. I wonder how Facebook would look in virtual social presence mode though! (Maybe virtual 3D renders of people will replace profile pictures!)
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