Social media outlets, such as Facebook and Twitter, are useful tools for people to keep in touch with others, whether friends, acquaintances, or complete strangers, no matter the physical distance between them. The release of Facebook’s new VR app for the Oculus Rift, called Facebook Spaces, brings spending time with others to the virtual world.
Virtual reality technology is a staple in imagining the future. While the technology for something as advanced as a Star Trek holodeck, for example, might not exist just yet, other advances into virtual reality are already being made.
On March 28, 2016, the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset, was released, with the HTC Vive released shortly after on April 5. This marked the beginning of virtual reality as it is known today. However, early forays into virtual reality can be traced back to the 1800s with the stereoscope, and how many people remember having a View-Master as a child? The Virtual Reality Society has a more detailed history into virtual reality.
When Facebook bought Oculus VR in 2014, many people wondered what the social media company wanted with the upcoming virtual reality company. Oculus had marketed itself as a platform for immersive gaming, something that is still its primary function. However, with the news of Facebook’s acquisition, a new possibility for the Oculus as a social media platform, as well as a gaming platform, quickly arose. The results of this possibility went mostly unseen until this past October, when Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive officer of Facebook, first revealed some early software for animated avatars in virtual reality, as previously reported by the Verge.
The beta version of Facebook Spaces for the Oculus Rift was recently released to the public. Spaces is presented as a three-dimensional virtual chatroom where users and their friends can share memories by showing off pictures from their Facebook pages, take virtual selfies of their avatars and their friends’ avatars, or draw 3D objects and interact with them. Users can even have Messenger video chats with their friends who do not have an Oculus.
Interaction in Spaces is done through a virtual avatar, which can be made by hand or automatically generated based on tagged photos. Once inside the virtual room, users can cycle through a variety of pre-set, panoramic backgrounds, or choose their own settings from their Facebook pictures. Users and their friends can speak to each other and hear each other’s voices similar to a telephone call, except that users can interact with their friends’ avatars in real time. A panel set in front of them allows users to access several tools, including a virtual pencil that can be used to create 3D drawings which are transformed into interactive objects. According to an article in TechCrunch, Mike Booth, Facebook product manager, desires for Spaces to be on all of the virtual reality platforms, not just the Oculus Rift.
While Spaces is still in a state of development, its existence proves just how far technology has come in the realm of virtual reality and also shows how much more is possible. The avatars in Spaces are able to show basic emotions, such as surprise and happiness, when the users perform the correct hand gestures, but they cannot read and copy the facial expressions of the users just yet. Facebook and Oculus clearly have much more planned for Spaces and the future of social media through the medium of virtual reality. Although the majority of people are still unable to experience virtual reality due to various reasons, the technology is still continuing. There was once a time in history where televisions were not commonplace. If science fiction movies are to be believed, then it is only a matter of time before virtual reality is just as commonplace as the television.
[Featured Image by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]