Oculus, facebook and augmented reality

March 28, 2014

About a 3 min. read

I haven’t blogged in a while, and have been meaning to get back to it this semester.  And this seems like a good time, since it was an interesting week in the world of virtual environments.

Depending on who you are, the news that Facebook bought Oculus for $2 Billion was exciting, the end of the world or somewhere in between (or, if you aren’t a VR geek, it was about as exciting as Google buying Nest or Facebook buying Instagram or Whatsapp for similarly large piles of cash and stock).  Social media (at least for virtual worlds folks like me) was filled with commentary on the purchase, ranging from yelling and screaming to bewilderment to amusement (I contributed to that later set, truth be told).

For me as an AR researcher, what’s interesting is the comment at the end of Zuckerberg’s announcement of the deal (emphasis added):

This is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures. These are just some of the potential uses. By working with developers and partners across the industry, together we can build many more. _**One day, we believe this kind of immersive, augmented reality will become a part of daily life for billions of people**_. Virtual reality was once the dream of science fiction. But the internet was also once a dream, and so were computers and smartphones. The future is coming and we have a chance to build it together. I can't wait to start working with the whole team at Oculus to bring this future to the world, and to unlock new worlds for all of us.

Oculus doesn’t do AR, and that one sentence is the only mention of AR I’ve seen Facebook or Oculus make regarding the deal (I probably missed a lot of commentary, though).  So, it might be seen as as throw-away “misuse” of the term.  On the other hand, using it in one place when he used the more well known virtual reality everywhere else is not the kind of randomness one would expect in a public comment on a $2B deal.

[caption id=”” align=”alignright” width=”371”]Image from Valve blog, courtesy of Serenity Forge Image from Valve blog, courtesy of Serenity Forge[/caption]

I was going to let it slide, until today when Oculus announced they’d hired Michael Abrash away from Valve as their new Chief Scientist, and that they also hired Atman Binstock from Valve as their new Chief Architect.  These guys spent the last few years at Valve pursuing AR and VR;  while they eventually decided AR was not as tractable in the near term as VR, they know a lot about it and understand its value.

As Michael said in his blog post announcing his move:

Facebook's acquisition of Oculus means that VR is going to happen in all its glory. The resources and long-term commitment that Facebook brings gives Oculus the runway it needs to solve the hard problems of VR – and some of them are hard indeed. I now fully expect to spend the rest of my career pushing VR as far ahead as I can.

While I’m still not sure I agree with his assessment here, I am more excited about this deal now that Michael and Atman are on board.  It’ll be interesting to see what happens.  Perhaps, given their new ability to focus long term, they’ll spin off some work in the AR space again.  I can always hope!

Good luck to you both, Micheal and Atman.  And congrats on adding some great people to the team, Oculus!

Oculus, Facebook and Augmented Reality - March 28, 2014 - Blair MacIntyre