Tuesday, October 20, 2020
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Highlights From Facebook Connect

The annual showcase streamed live on Venues and on the Facebook Connect website.

 

For years, Oculus – now part of Facebook Reality Labs – used the Oculus Connect conference to let the world know what it was up to. This year the remote conference, now called Facebook Connect, revealed a number of developments on popular topics of speculation including Quest 2 and anticipated AR glasses.

One of the first topics covered was the controversial rebranding including the name Facebook Reality Labs, initially announced in June of last year.

“Work to build the next computing platform (…) increasingly requires us to extend beyond just our Oculus virtual reality product line,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

In addition to Oculus developments, Facebook Connect discussed updates to Spark AR and Facebook Portal.

Facebook’s AR Glasses

AR glasses from Facebook have been rumored since at least 2018. While smart glasses – with a computer interface and audio features but no display – may be just around the corner, we were warned that an AR-enabled model is at least ten years away.

“There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done on some of the foundational technologies,” said Zuckerberg. “We now have a line of sight into how we’re going to get there in the coming years.”

Ten years may sound like a long time, particularly considering the fact that AR glasses are already on the market. However, the intended glasses described by Facebook Reality Labs Chief Scientist Michael Abrash are uniquely ambitious.

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“Always-on AR glasses have the potential to be integral to almost everything that we do,” said Abrash.

Abrash’s session also revealed plans for more accurate and precise hand tracking through a bracelet that measures nerve impulses in the wrist, as well as “audio superpowers” including ambient noise canceling.

He also expressed that having always-on AR glasses would create the possibility for personalized artificial intelligence-enabled assistants. This would require “machine perception,” which Facebook Reality Labs is currently exploring through their Project Aria.

The technology is being explored through Aria smart glasses. A number of speakers throughout Facebook Connect made sure to emphasize that the glasses are neither a product nor a prototype, and they will not be made available for sale. Rather, they were made specifically for a limited number of Facebook employees to develop the software for eventual Facebook AR glasses.

On an aesthetic level, Zuckerberg also announced that Facebook would be working with sunglasses maker Luxottica, manufacturer of Ray-Ban, Oakley, and others. One day, this will allow for multiple different frames and styles for Facebook’s AR glasses.

Quest 2 Announcements

Also highly anticipated were announcements related to the Quest 2, some details of which were recently leaked online.

Hardware Specs

Updates to the Quest 2 that were made or confirmed at Facebook Connect included a 50% more pixels, lighter weight, interchangeable redesigned straps, redesigned controllers, and better memory and processing through the second generation of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon XR series chip. The Quest 2 will also come with a link to make it PC-compatible.

“We remain committed to a world where social connection is no longer contingent on proximity in the physical world,” said Facebook Reality Lab’s Vicepresident Andrew Bosworth (affectionately known as “Boz”).

andrew bosworth facebook reality labs facebook connect

Further, the Quest 2, open for preorders now and expected to ship in October, will come in at US$299. That’s less than the original Quest was selling for.

“Being more powerful, more convenient, and more affordable at the same time, [Quest 2] has the potential to massively drive VR’s breakthrough into the mass market like no other,” holoride CEO, Nils Wollny, said in comments emailed to ARPost. “Quest 2 will lead to an unseen momentum in the whole industry and we’ll witness more exciting mobile VR products to follow in the next 18 months.”

Operating System and Content Updates

Hardware isn’t all that’s new for Quest 2. A number of updates were also announced for the Quest 2’s operating system. Some of these impact everybody, while others are primarily important for content developers.

A universal menu will be added as an overlay that will be accessible across experiences on the device. Mobile devices will also be able to be used for realtime third person mixed reality gameplay capture in a special “spectator mode.”

Mark Zuckerberg Facebook Connect 2020

Facebook Reality Labs is also working on “inferred upper body motion” that will attempt to animate the arms, chest, and shoulders along with hand animations.

A number of games were also announced at Facebook Connect, including Warhammer: Battle Sisters, Pistol Whip 2089, Myst, The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners updates, and the highly anticipated Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond coming December 11. Also teased were VR offerings from Ubisoft including Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell games.

Oculus for Business

VR isn’t just for play. Neither is Quest 2, and neither was Facebook Connect. The event also featured a presentation on “Oculus for Business” by Facebook Reality Labs’ Head of Enterprise, Maria Fernandez Guajardo.

“VR has the potential to get us closer to what we know we can achieve in person, and a lot more,” said Guajardo. Her talk introduced the Infinite Office tool. “Infinite Office is a collection of features we will be rolling out over the coming months.”

The tool will include multiple customizable screens, a dedicated VR browser, and integration with the user’s physical environment. Some resources can be accessed anywhere and others can be pinned to real-world objects and locations.

The announcement also included a partnership between Facebook Reality Labs and Logitech for a physical keyboard to be used for VR. The keyboard will be released to test users this winter.

XR Updates Across Facebook

Facebook purchased Oculus for a reason, and much of the conference displayed that by discussing updates coming to multiple platforms in the Facebook ecosystem.

Facebook Messenger will be coming to Quest. This will allow users to access the app within VR, but VR users will also be able to use the app to invite their friends into VR experiences – without leaving those experiences. Facebook Shops will also get expanded access to virtual try-on technology while new filters and interactions are coming to Portal and Messenger.

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In the entertainment world, Facebook Venues will have an updated lobby to encourage audience interaction. The avatars will also be more personalized and receive a new more stylized look in keeping with the Horizons style.

What About…

For as much as was discussed at Facebook Connect, a number of topics were noticeably not discussed.

Members of the XR community have expressed suspicion that Facebook’s focus on the Quest 2 and phasing out of the Go might be writing on the wall meaning the end of Rift. The emphasis put on Quest 2’s Link feature might play into this narrative, particularly considering content and hardware for the Rift line were not discussed at Facebook Connect at all.

Facebook also neglected to comment on their recent announcement that Oculus users will soon have to sign in through Facebook accounts. The announcement has so far been widely unpopular.

Where to Watch Facebook Connect

In this article, I’ve tried to cover highlights like news and announcements. However, the actual event lasted several hours and there was no way to cover everything. Other great sessions included talks for animators and developers, as well as panel discussions on topics like live events and increasing inclusivity and representation.

Facebook Connect streamed live on Facebook and in Venues. Some of the content is also available on-demand on the Facebook Reality Labs Facebook page.

Jon Jaehnig
the authorJon Jaehnig
Jon Jaehnig is a freelance writer specializing in Technology and Health. Jon has a degree in Scientific and Technical Communication from Michigan Technological University and lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with his wife and cat. If you have a story suggestion for Jon, you may contact him here.