Virtual reality is great at transporting people to new and unimaginable worlds, but you may have a hard time bringing a friend with you at this point in the technology’s evolution.
That’s a perfect challenge for Facebook, the social network that also owns VR headset maker Oculus. A new project demoed by CTO Mike Schroepfer at Facebook’s F8 developer conference shows off the future of social VR.
In the demo, Schroepfer went through some explorations the Social VR team has been working on. A virtual Schroepfer and his colleague Michael Booth explored a virtual London while both were in different areas of California.
The duo could see each other’s digital avatars, which consisted of floating heads and disembodied hands. By using expressions and hand gestures, Schroepfer and Booth can communicate more directly than just using voice alone. They were able to scribble drawing, including ties and glasses, which they could pin to those avatars. They even took a VR selfie (of course).
The social experience isn’t available to the public yet, but the team is experimenting with intent to launch just as powerful VR headsets just start to hit the market.
“This is just the beginning of our exploration into how people can connect and share using today’s VR technology,” Booth said in a Facebook post. “There’s a lot more work to do and many more challenges to solve — such as how to better model ourselves within VR, so we can elevate “presence” from a disembodied head and hands to a more expressive model of a person.”
Facebook-owned Oculus showed off its own social VR experience last year with the Toybox, which let users fire slingshots and toss toys to friends in a virtual space.
Facebook’s version adds in teleportation, where users can hang out in virtual space from anywhere, presumably on the backbone of the social network. Microsoft is working on something similar with the HoloLens, using the augmented reality headset in a demo of “holoportation” to bring friends together.