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Facebook wants us to take VR selfies with virtual selfie sticks

Engadget Engadget 13/04/2016 Nicole Lee
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When Facebook bought Oculus two years ago, many thought the combination was odd. Facebook is a social network, while Oculus makes virtual reality headsets. The two didn't seem to go together. Well, at F8, Facebook's Developer Conference, we might have seen a peek into how Facebook plans to integrate social into VR. It's not just about watching a movie together or linking an Oculus account to Facebook. It actually involves interacting with another person in a virtual space; chatting, laughing, drawing doodles, sharing photos, and, as we saw in a demo here at F8, even taking virtual selfies with virtual selfie sticks.

On stage in San Francisco, Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer donned an Oculus Rift headset, which he used to communicate to a colleague based back in Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park. They're both represented as floating heads and hands, but you can customize your avatar by using virtual pens to draw in facial hair and other features. They even created virtual neckties and attached them to each other. Think of them as Snapchat doodles but in VR.

Next, his colleague gave him what appears to be a circular image. He "throws" it at Schroepfer, and it then explodes into a 360-degree image that completely surrounds both of them. The image is that of the St. Pancras train station in London. Then he tosses another image his way, and it expands to a 360-degree surrounding of Piccadilly Circus. What really got the crowd's attention, however, was when they went to a Tower Bridge scene; they actually took a virtual selfie using a virtual selfie stick. After doing so, Schroepfer sent off the selfie to his Facebook feed through what appears to be a virtual teleporting mailbox. This, it seems, is what Facebook imagines social VR will be like.

Yaser Sheikh, a researcher for Oculus, said on stage that as technology improves, this will become even more likely. Even though current VR avatars of ourselves are still pretty rudimentary, he said that we're still able to infer what's happening. "The moment the points move, the ambiguity disappears," he said, adding that the use case for social VR is manifold. You can share intimate moments like a birth of a child in VR, for example, or enjoy virtual sightseeing with friends. "Genuine, deeply convincing interactions, remotely," is the goal. That kind of immersion and deep connection isn't possible in just a regular photo or video, he said. Facebook is also working on head-mounted cameras to pick up more detailed mouth movements so that the avatars are more lifelike than before.

"Imagine a social experience in VR that's indistinguishable from real life," Sheikh said. "Where the tech disappears and you're just interacting with another person." Facebook is several years away from that still, but it's clear that they've already started laying the groundwork for it to happen.

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