A month ago, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called his shot: He wants to get 1 billion people into the virtual reality universe. To make that goal a reality, Facebook-owned Oculus is now looking to significantly expand both its headcount and its real estate footprint in the Seattle area, GeekWire has learned.
Oculus, the virtual reality company that Facebook snapped up in 2014 for $2.3 billion, has more than 100 open positions in Microsoft’s backyard of Redmond, Wash. That’s nearly as many open positions as in all other Oculus offices around the globe combined, including the company’s Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters.
Oculus will need somewhere to put all those people, and the real estate and virtual reality communities are buzzing about a massive expansion for Oculus in the Seattle area. Real estate sources tell GeekWire that Oculus is looking around for 200,000 square feet of research and development space in Redmond. Additionally, the company is rumored to be in the market for a big chunk of office space — possibly as much as 500,000 to 1 million square feet — in the Seattle area, according to three real estate sources not involved in Oculus’ search.
An Oculus spokesperson declined to discuss the company’s future plans or real estate needs in the Seattle area, but did provide the following statement: “We recently shared our vision to get 1 billion people into VR, and we’re growing the Oculus team in Seattle to help make that happen. We’re excited about the talent and growth in Seattle, and welcome engineering, product, and hardware experts who want to join us!”
Oculus’ job site lists 239 open positions worldwide, and Redmond, where its long-term research efforts as well as hardware and other operations are focused, accounts for 117 of those openings. In Seattle, Oculus has another six openings. Menlo Park, where Oculus is headquartered, has the second most job postings at 71.
Seattle’s reputation as a tech hub is no secret, but beyond the giants of Amazon and Microsoft, and the title of cloud capital, the Seattle area is becoming a hot bed for virtual, augmented, mixed — and every other kind of tech-enhanced reality. Microsoft has the high-end HoloLens headset, which recently expanded to 29 new countries. Valve, which works with HTC on the Vive headset, is based in Redmond’s neighbor of Bellevue, Wash. HTC’s Creative Labs offices are in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood. Earlier this year GeekWire reported that Amazon Web Service is building a team focused on mixed reality.
Seattle is also home to a strong community of VR startups raising money and making moves. Just today, Pixvana, which helps virtual reality filmmakers edit, process, and deliver video, announced a $14 million funding round led by Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital. HaptX, previously known as AxonVR, today unveiled its first product, a set of VR gloves. A startup that moved to the Seattle area last year called the region the “center of everything gaming and everything VR.”
Oculus has in the last few months poached a number of hardware managers and engineers from both Valve and Microsoft. Local VR startups attempting to hire people away from these big companies have found themselves consistently going head-to-head with Oculus and in some cases losing out on coveted talent.
The job postings give insight into what is happening out in Oculus’ research and development hive in Redmond.
- A posting for a hardware engineer is focused on “hardening of various computer vision algorithms for SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping) implementation on our next-generation AR/VR consumer product platforms.”
- A posting for a postdoctoral research scientist in “lifelong machine learning” says the role will focus “on the intersection of Deep Learning and Machine Perception, exploring the limits of ‘Always On’ Machine Learning techniques within the context of consumer electronic devices for new uses of Artificial Intelligence within newly conceptualized cognitive AR devices.”
- Oculus is looking for researchers to work as optical scientists focused on “next generation consumer electronics, including near to eye display and imaging systems, at our research location in Redmond WA. Primary responsibility is developing optical systems, including visual optics, sensors, image processing algorithms, and related technologies building blocks to enable next generation architectures.”
Oculus first disclosed plans to open an office in Seattle in 2014. Former Valve engineer Atman Binstock, Oculus’ chief architect led the team. Around the same time, Oculus brought in Michael Abrash, also from Valve, to be Oculus’ chief scientist.
Less than a year after announcing its Seattle office, Oculus established a permanent presence by inking a lease for 51,000 square feet at the Stadium Innovation Center in Seattle’s Sodo neighborhood in 2015. A year later, Oculus reportedly expanded in the neighborhood, picking up another floor in a neighboring building. Last year, Oculus leased approximately 100,000 square feet of office and warehouse space in Redmond, reportedly for R&D efforts.
In addition to expanding its headcount and real estate footprint, Oculus has beefed up its product offerings in recent years. For the first years of its existence, Oculus had produced two headsets: the flagship Oculus Rift and the Gear VR, in partnership with Samsung. But just last month, Oculus announced a brand new headset and gave an update on another.
Oculus Go is the company’s first standalone headset, which means that it neither requires a phone to snap in, nor is it wired to a computer. The $200 headset is set to ship early next year. Then, there is Project Santa Cruz, which aims to bring the quality of a PC-powered headset, while liberating users from being tethered to a computer.
An executive at one virtual reality startup in Seattle told GeekWire that this hiring push for talented research and hardware experts could mean that Oculus is working on multiple new devices. Efforts like these take hundreds of people, the VR exec said, meaning Oculus may just be getting started with its expansion in the Seattle area.