Can VR Tennis Get You Fit?
LOGGING onto social media like this feels as though you’re in a real life Sims game and you’re one of the characters. This could be the future.
PRETTY soon logging onto Facebook to catch up with friends is going to be a very different experience.
No longer will it take place on a 2D computer screen but you will whack on a headset, grab some controllers and meet up with them in a virtual space of your own making. At least that’s what the social media giant is hoping.
Since spending billions of dollars to buy virtual reality company Oculus Rift in 2014, Facebook has been developing a range of virtual reality experiences. One of them is Facebook Spaces where users build their own lifelike avatar and then create groups to meet their friends online in virtual reality and chat, play games and generally mess about.
After launching Facebook Spaces last year, I got the chance to give it a try last week and it is a pretty crazy experience.
The product is in its infancy and still in beta but you can see the potential for social media and virtual reality to create a completely new level of online interaction.
It feels like being in a Sims game and you’re one of the characters, albeit a pretty stationary character.
When you enter Facebook Spaces you’re confined to gathering around a central table where you can do things like play games such as playing cards or shooting dice, play with an art kit, take photos or videos (which you can post on your timeline or stream to Facebook Live) or simply chat.
You can bring in photos from your profile and pass them around, which can have some pretty useful applications.
The Facebook staff who took me through the demonstration said they sometimes hold transnational meetings via Facebook Spaces.
What’s fascinating is how quickly you adjust to the virtual world and start thinking of your fellow avatar guests as almost real people.
“Virtual reality is unlike any technology before because it allows the amazing feeling of presence — the feeling that you’re really there with someone in the same space, even when you’re actually far apart,” said Mike Booth, Creative Director of Social VR at Facebook.
“With the Oculus Rift headset and Touch controllers, you can reach out and touch someone in VR, which is a magical feeling.”
I got a bit ridiculous and decided to give my avatar long blonde hair and a handlebar moustache.Source:Supplied
The interactiveness is a lot of fun, but the novelty would likely wear off pretty quickly. For example, you can pick up a pen and draw something in the air and then it becomes a solid item that you can grab and pass around. You can even draw yourself a wooden club and then play a game of Whack-A-Mole with it.
For the backdrop you can choose any 360 photo or video to load on to the platform and switch between different environments.
To take part in Facebook Spaces you need an Oculus headset (which comes equipped with a microphone and earpieces so you can chat away) and two accompanying sensors that measure your depth when doing things like selecting menu items by pointing with you hand, grabbing things or drawing on the walls.
You’ll also need a pretty decent computer with a good graphics processor unit to power Facebook Spaces. So all together you’re probably looking at upwards of $1200 for everything you need.
The headset also comes with two handheld controllers which you can use to manipulate your facial expressions while in Facebook Spaces. Eventually, I would expect that sort of thing to be automatically read by facial recognition sensors but that’s still a long way off.
“We’re always looking for ways that we can help people express themselves more easily and authentically in VR,” Mr Booth told news.com.au.
“We’ll continue exploring the possibilities as technology advances, but in the meantime for now we’re focused on gesturally-controlled emotions and we’ve found this to be a very effective way to help people express themselves in VR with the technology available today.”
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has previously said he wants to connect a billion people in virtual reality. If the company is to achieve that ambitious goal, this is what the first step might look like.
“It’s still early days for social VR, and we know we’ll continue to learn a lot from seeing the ways people use these apps to connect with each other,” Mr Booth said.
“We want to bring people along with us and hear their feedback as we learn, so we’re going to continue iterating on all our social VR products as we learn and explore the possibilities.”