Facebook previews smart glasses and the future of work in VR

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Facebook on Wednesday shared the wide-ranging progress it’s made building immersive experiences and tools, including smart glasses coming in 2021 that could lead to AR as well as enterprise tools to enable VR meetings and work. 

First, the company announced it will launch a pair of Ray-Ban smartglasses in 2021. The social media giant is partnering with EssilorLuxottica, which owns the Ray-Ban brand, to develop the smart glasses. The company had few details to share beyond that — the product name, specs, software capabilities, pricing and other information will be shared closer to the 2021 launch. 

The smart glasses, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, will pave the way for Facebook’s eventual development of augmented reality (AR) glasses. 

The smart glasses are “not yet AR glasses, but they’re on the way there,” he said during the virtual Facebook Connect, the annual AR/VR conference formerly known as Oculus Connect. “We now have line of sight into how we’re going to get there in the coming years.”

Another large part of Facebook’s immersive experiences is focused around the future of work, with the launch of a new enterprise edition of Quest 2 and new Oculus for Business resources. Facebook also previewed the “Infinite Office” features it plans to launch to enable productivity on the Quest platform.  

Zuckerberg himself said he’s already held his first management team meeting entirely in VR. The experience was better than what’s possible with current virtual collaboration tools, he said, because “we had a shared sense of space.” 

He added, “Even before we have avatars with full fidelity… having that shared sense of space and spacial audio… it makes a huge difference.” AR and VR, he said, are “going to be the most social platforms ever, and we’re really just scratching the surface.” 

Facebook already supports enterprise VR use cases with Oculus for Business, which offers features like fleet management and enterprise-grade support. It offers business-friendly ways to log into the Quest headset, such as using workplace accounts. The software is built on Workplace, Facebook’s enterprise collaboration platform. 

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On Wednesday, Facebook announced new Oculus for Business resources including the Oculus for Business ISV Directory. This database lists the more than 600  qualified VR solution providers in theOculus ISV Program, and it offers filtering and search capabilities to help companies find ISVs by use case, industry vertical and country.

Later this year, Facebook will launch Business Channels, which let ISVs deliver applications directly to customers’ headsets while still giving company admins control of their deployments.

“We believe VR will be your next computer,” Maria Fernandez Guajardo, director of Future of Work at Facebook Reality Labs, said during the virtual event. It will offer “a better way to surf the web … to collaborate with colleagues across distance.” 

Facebook is offering an enterprise version of the Quest 2, priced at $799 per SKU. It comes with an extended two-year warranty, one year of the Oculus for Business software platform and premium support.

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Facebook’s upcoming Infinite Office experience

Guajardo also previewed Infinite Office, a collection of productivity features for the Quest platform that will begin rolling out this winter. Infinite Office will allow users to create virtual, customizable screens, so they don’t have to rely on physical hardware to get work done. The virtual screen experience “integrates with your real environment,” Guajardo said — you can attach screens to a table or desk and then move them to another location while maintaining a consistent work experience. 

Facebook is also partnering with Logitech to bring a physical keyboard into VR.

Facebook is aiming to expand the reach of VR with the Quest 2, which the company said Wednesday will be available for $299, making it the most affordable VR gaming system on the market. The all-in-one, wireless headset is smaller and lighter than the first-generation Quest. It utilizes the Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 Platform and boasts a high-resolution display with 50 percent more pixels than the first generation. 

Some other news to come out of Facebook Connect: 

A growing ecosystem: More than 35 titles on the Quest platform have generated revenue in the millions since launch, Facebook said. This summer, Onward’s Quest debut made $1 million dollars in revenue in just four days.

A fitness experience for Oculus: Oculus Move is a unified dashboard that will help Quest and Quest 2 owners keep track of their fitness goals across their VR apps. 

Advances in AR: Facebook said its Spark AR is the largest platform for mobile AR creation and discovery. Beginning next year, the company will open up Portal and Messenger to Spark AR creator publishing.

Advances in research with Project Aria

Facebook also revealed its plans to learn more about the development of AR glasses with an initiative called Project Aria. Starting in September, trained members of the Facebook team and contractors will start wearing experimental AR glasses in the real world, both indoors and outdoors. 

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The project will “help us answer the questions we need to ask,” Facebook’s Andrew Bosworth said. 

For instance, it should advance Facebook’s understanding of the hardware needed for well-designed AR glasses — which outward sensors are needed to take in external environmental data, and which inward sensors are needed to track eye movements. 

Facebook will also compile valuable “egocentric datasets,” which will give the company a better understanding of what the world looks like a from a first-person point of view. 

Facebook stressed the steps the company is taking to test the glasses responsibly. For instance, all participants will be trained on when and where they should collect data — they shouldn’t, for example, record anything with the glasses in “sensitive areas” like restrooms, prayer rooms or sensitive meetings. Participants won’t record in venues such as stores or restaurants without written consent from the venues.

Meanwhile, Facebook will attempt to be transparent about its research. All devices will display a prominent white light that indicates when data is being collected. When wearing the research device in public, each participant will be required to wear a lanyard and clothing that identifies them as participants in the study and includes a website where people can learn more about the project. 

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