3 Expectations For Facebook’s Evolution of VR/AR

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As part of Sean Whitmore's analysts regular responsibilities, he covered the conference and has shared his takeaways and potential implications for the future of Virtual RealitiesTM.

On Tuesday, Facebook held its annual F8 developer's conference. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg shared the company's 10-year road map, including Google Glass-like aspirations along with drones, solar-powered planes and bots.  Here are my conclusions from observing the news coming from the conference.

1. Oculus form factor will evolve to eventually become a pair of wearable glasses with all-day comfort and styling.

Over the next 10 years, the form factor's just going to keep on getting smaller and smaller, and eventually we're going to have what looks like normal-looking glasses that can do both virtual and augmented reality.

And augmented reality gives you the ability to see the world but also to be able to overlay digital objects on top of that.So that means that today, if I want to show my friends a photo, I pull out my phone and I have a small version of the photo. In the future, you'll be able to snap your fingers and pull out a photo and make it as big as you want, and with your AR glasses you'll be able to show it to people and they'll be able to see it.

As a matter of act, when we get to this world, a lot of things that we think about as physical objects today, like a TV for displaying an image, will actually just be $1 apps in an AR app store. So it's going to take a long time to make this work. But this is the vision, and this is what we're trying to get to over the next 10 years.“ - Mark Zuckerberg, F8 Keynote (quote provided by The Verge)

 

The implications for this are undoubtedly important. If glasses became as ubiquitous as a smartphone, or Facebook for that matter, then there will be near infinite ways to stay more connected. Social interactions where you and a friend share a photo and manipulate it in physical space via a wirelessly connected pair of glasses will be revolutionary yet also familiar. As Zuckerberg said this level of interconnectedness already exists with the proliferation of smartphones and social media but the new medium will allow for an even more personal way to connect with not only other people but your daily content consumption as well. The same content can apply in VR or AR but the current technology, that even Facebook and Oculus admits, is clunky and not representative of what true VR could be like.

The inevitable conclusion here for AR/VR will be one device as comfortable or as burdenless as a pair of glasses but will offer the capabilities of both of these still-emerging technologies. Today, this quest is impossible but 10 years from now it is now all but assured.

This device might be called “mixed reality” but regardless of the conceptual name given to it, the device will be dependent upon the use cases. The one thing we can all be sure of is the hardware is on track to becoming effortlessly unobtrusive for the user. However, all the hardware advances in the world cannot make up for a lack of content. Arguably, that is the one thing Mark Zuckerberg and Oculus are the most concerned about at this stage: the continued proliferation of worthwhile content.

2. Oculus must adopt a product development cycle similar to smartphones in 2008.

To achieve an effortless form factor for a technology that only 5 years ago was rudimentary and archaic to today’s standards will require significant iteration. The consumer Oculus Rift today will resemble an ENIAC original computer compared to the potential of an AR/VR integrated pair of smart glasses 10 years from now. The only way that will be achieved is through not occasional hardware iterations but rapid and consistent hardware evolution.

Hardware evolution of this magnitude will require displays to pack more pixels into each inch of surface area, to eventually become transparent and curved while supporting 8k by 8k resolution (at least). It will require on-board computational storage for the motherboard and other integral components to shrink to such a size they can fit within the bands of the glasses themselves. Any sensors today like the face proximity sensor on the Rift will have to be as insubstantial as the front-facing camera sensors are on the latest smartphones.

This feat will not happen in 5 years with a single successor from the Rift as it stands today, this will require bi-annual or even annual generational iterations over the course of a decade or more. Eventually, as the manufacturing lines expand and the advances become streamlined, iteration cycles could be as short as 6-months with diverse upgrade options.

3. AI will play an increasingly more important role in virtual reality

Greenlight VR_Facebook Road Map

Source: Facebook

 

The one topic that did not receive nearly as much deserved attention from the F8 Conference this week was AI. Although Facebook announced its continued integration into Messenger and the Facebook app itself, it was seemingly left unannounced how it would incorporate itself into other Facebook projects like Oculus. As Facebook's AI Research (FAIR) has continued to advance, in parallel, so to has their announcements and developments in the VR/AR space. Just looking at the 10 year roadmap Mark Zuckerberg outlined we see VR/AR tech and the inevitable smart-glasses form factor right alongside the full integration of their AI programs. It is reasonable to predict based on this and other internal data that the evolution of Facebook's AI will not be mutually exclusive to their AR/VR technology. Undoubtedly, Zuckerberg hopes for the seamless integration of both into our daily lives by the end of that 10 year plan.

What the integration of AI in VR/AR could look like ranges from the now-simple route updates in Google Maps based on your trajectory, to being able to predict your movements in a virtual world before you even make them. The needed technological developments to get here will be certainly extraordinary and if achieved can enhance daily life so much that the integration of technology in social life will be absolute.