Real Virtual and Augmented Reality Apps, Coming Soon From Facebook

Oculus VR, the Virtual Reality (VR) technology company acquired by Facebook earlier this year, announced recently that they are acquiring two small start-up companies,  Nimble VR and 13th Lab, to fill gaps in their virtual reality capabilities, Seeking Alpha reports. The acquisitions may indicate that, besides VR games and social worlds, Facebook may target Augmented Reality (AR) applications, like Google is doing with Google Glass.

Oculus VR was acquired by Facebook for US$2 billion in cash and Facebook stock, leading to speculations that Facebook may soon launch VR applications and virtual worlds. When you put the Oculus Rift headset on, you step into an immersive VR world where you are surrounded by computer-generated scenery and sound. The Oculus interface is powerful enough to persuade the user to suspend disbelief and accept the virtual world as real. If the virtual world is well designed, users feel a powerful sense of “being there.”

Also read: Facebook’s Oculus Rift is Going to Change Everything

Plenty of immersive video games already exist in which you can move around entire cities and interact with hundreds of characters. Many users emerge from their first experience with the newest version of the Oculus Rift with the impression that “it is going to change everything.”

Early applications focus on gaming, but Oculus sees a day, as forecast by the epic book [Snow Crash], in which people use virtual reality goggles to interact with each other in life-like three dimensional settings while each sitting in their own living rooms.

According to company statements, Facebook acquired Oculus to bring virtual reality to social networking and other online experiences, for example watching sports games or taking virtual classes. The first VR initiatives of Facebook, perhaps in 2015, will be very interesting to watch.

SLAM for Augmented Reality Apps

Ball Invasion
13th Lab’s Ball Invasion is the first (and only) iPad application to use the NASA-invented Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) technology to build real-time 3D maps of the environment as you move the iPad’s camera around.

But the recent acquisitions may indicate that Facebook is even more ambitious. 13th Lab technology analyzes video streams from a camera moving through a site. In addition to building a 3D model of the environment based on video streams, their technology can track the camera’s location in real-time as it moves around the site, based only on information gleaned from the video. This technology is called “Simultaneous Localization And Mapping” (SLAM).

“As speculation, imagine if Oculus, or Facebook, brought the Oculus goggles to market not only for immersive virtual reality, but also for wearing around during every-day life, as Google is doing with Google Glass? In such a model, the goggles would deliver augmented reality rather than virtual reality, with the computer-generated imagery augmenting the view of the real world rather than replacing it. Obviously the glasses would need to be less like virtual reality goggles and more like fashionable eyeglasses.”

Augmented Reality (AR) doesn’t place the user in a game world but enhances the real world with synthetic imagery, from simple text and icons used for navigation and directions to sophisticated interactive 3D features.

Images from 13th Lab, Stefano Tinti and Shutterstock.

Giulio Prisco is a freelance writer specialized in science, technology, business and future studies.