Facebook, the mega-conglomerate we are all familiar with, can be found on your computer, phone, and most recently, your face. Credited with launching the world of social networking and known to dabble in what was once referred to as "the most controversial emotional experiment" where liking posts and following groups of people became a daily mental exercise, this en masse phenomenon has taken a new turn in the world of Virtual Reality.
Seven (7) years after Facebook purchased Oculus (the self-contained Virtual Reality experience with its gaming engine and store)-- Andrew Bosworth, the head of Facebook's Augmented and VR Lab, posted a video on May 21st with the following caption:
"As we think through supercharging remote work and productivity, we've been working on mixed reality concepts that build on existing technologies like passthrough to allow people to switch between real and virtual worlds."
In Andrew's video, he shows a user interface similar to what exists today - Camera scanning technology to the likes of the Oculus Quest 2 or the HTC Vive Cosmos. Infrared sensors are on the device rather than in-room. The video (only 10 seconds long) shows the man looking down at his own hands then gesturing to move the computer's browser into place. Finally, he types a message while a video plays in the background. You can see elements of the room, like the lamp in the corner and what's going on outside.
Digging into the wearable component, it seems people are generally more comfortable with using headsets and integrated technology than they ever have before. In 2011, the Google Glass was introduced but failed a year later due to the stigma of wearing technology that recorded one's environment. An Article by Medium said it was Google's assumptions about how people would receive this technology that ultimately led to its demise.
So what makes FB's latest R&D project more appealing and therefore more interesting? Is it that people are more comfortable with a bulky headset, something that shields their eyes from the real world? Or is it other people's comfort knowing that they are in the room with someone in the virtual world, where the mix of seeing what's really in front of you isn't hidden by some super robotic glasses that "could" be recording or shrouded in mystery.
The technology that will allow a hands-free experience is now available on the Oculus Go. "Hands Free Controllers" is a version 12 update on the Oculus Quest 2 where under settings and 'experimental features' you can enable hand tracking.
As of June 2021, an estimated 10-15 apps support a hand tracking feature, like BigScreen, where (maybe) it's more natural for you to watch movies with friends and wave or make natural hand gestures without controllers. But if that's out of your comfort zone, you can re-enable the controllers.
Following Bosworth's contemporary vision for the future-- on March 9th-- he posted a video of a wearable, which as Lauren Goode of Wired's magazine, April 2021 puts it, "something that looks like an iPod Mini mounted on a thick wristband." Now how this personally ties with the already existing Oculus hardware and Facebook Data logs is unclear. But what we do know is that it's called an Electromyography Device.
According to John Hopkins medical, the term Electromyography or EMG measures muscle response or electrical activity in response to a nerve's stimulation of the muscle. These devices aren't new. But to put it plainly, we see this emergent technology act as a new way people control their computers.
Haptics Add Realism
In an earlier article, we described the Woojer Vest, a product out of the Netherlands which captures sounds from games and converts them into vibration. When worn, the user gets a tingling sensation as they walk through a game. You can see in a video that a person is in a dark alley, they're shot, and the vibration is space sensitive to where they get hit, how, and the intensity.
It would seem from Bosworth's post that Electromyography can be incorporated into a wrist device, and playing a video game without moving their fingers is possible.
As Bosworth has previously noted, a wearable is very different from the invasive implants out there, similar to Elon Musk's Neuralink tech.
What About Privacy?
All of this begs the question- when is a person's privacy ultimately taken away? Was it the minute we learned how to type on a computer, or the moment a sensor was reading my eye movements to know where I should walk in a game?
Many technologies, when first introduced, were seemingly docile and unquestionably safe, only to be attacked by opponents. The seatbelt created by Volvo became a political statement that the car company was trying to "constrain" passengers while driving. The train -- where many worried that people sitting while moving in a vehicle at a fast sped could cause dizziness and a series of unknown illnesses- has not only proven safe but has demonstrated the ingenuity and adaptability of humankind.
Perhaps Virtual Reality automation is the next technology that will cause concern for those who are not ready for it.