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Facebook teases a vision of remote work with virtual and augmented reality

Facebook has long believed in the promise of virtual and augmented reality that goes far beyond entertainment, and we are now getting a clearer view of what this future could look like now that the current pandemic is changing the way businesses everywhere Think remote work.

According to Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, Facebook’s director of AR and VR, the company is already investing in “charging remote work and productivity” using these technologies. He even shared a video of what that might look like, with real footage of an experimental test using a prototype of Facebook hardware and software.

It’s not much – the video is only eight seconds long. But it shows an idea that Facebook managers like Bosworth think is the future of work. We see some floating displays that the user quickly resizes and rearranges with a form of touch gesture that looks like pinching, dragging, and zooming.

Of course, these ads are virtual, but the world around the user is real – thanks to Passthrough. Oculus uses the term to use the outward-facing cameras on a Rift or Quest VR headset to see the space around you. Passthrough is used to create the virtual network barrier that limits the Oculus software to a specific area that you draw with the touch controller itself. This function is also useful if you are just curious about where you are in a room or how close you are to a wall or piece of furniture, for example.

But here in this demo, says Bosworth, Facebook is imagining a mix of AR and VR – what the tech industry calls mixed reality – that Passthrough uses to show you your keyboard as you type. This way, you can get the noticeable effect of a physical keyboard without having to worry about the space you need to properly set up three monitors. There’s also a small menu bar that appears to float at the bottom of the user’s field of vision, and contains shortcuts and other quick productivity-related features that you may be able to access with a tap.

“In the future, we could create an expanded workspace with multiple functions and multiple customizable screens in VR that is not limited to the limits of physical monitors. It would use technologies like pass-through to create a mixed reality productivity experience that allows people to switch between the real and virtual world at any time, improve spatial awareness, and at the same time offer the flexibility that we see from laptops and other popular devices Devices are used, ”says a blog post Facebook published today. “By combining the flexibility of new inputs such as hand tracking with the familiarity of everyday input devices like keyboard and mouse, we can offer people the best of both worlds.”

This is not completely new stuff. We saw demos like this on HoloLens from Microsoft and the Magic Leap One headset. Facebook and Oculus have also shown similar features related to the Oculus Hand Tracking demo and other features that are essential if you are actually wearing something on your face while doing meaningful work, e.g. B. Typing and reading, what we can only hope for will be readable text on a virtual screen. (The demo shared by Bosworth is captured by the headset itself, so it’s hard to say what the user actually looks like.)

It is noteworthy, however, that Facebook is accelerating its work in mixed reality during the COVID 19 pandemic. The company already has an Oculus business unit dedicated to selling headsets to businesses. The collaboration between Facebook and Oculus in the field of hand tracking, more realistic avatars, spatial audio and more powerful wireless technology shows how seriously the company is committed to the idea of ​​virtual presence and makes it as powerful as possible.

But perhaps the biggest signal from Facebook about his ambitions to transform remote work came earlier today, when CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a massive change in his plans to run his company by allowing employees to request permanent remote status and to open new roles in the company also for remote workers. While other technology companies, including Square and Twitter, have done the same, Facebook is the first large company of its size to make the leap.

“We will be the most future-oriented company for distance work on our scale,” said CEO Mark Zuckerberg in an interview with The edge. “We have to do this in a way that is thoughtful and responsible, so we will do it in a moderate way.” But I think it is possible that over the next five to ten years – maybe closer to ten than five, but somewhere in this area – we will be able to work remotely on a permanent basis. ”

Zuckerberg specifically addressed AR and VR as options that could improve the long-term profitability of remote employees by giving remote employees a sense of presence in meetings and other collaborative efforts. “VR and AR are about presenting people remotely,” said Zuckerberg. “So if you’ve been busy with VR and AR and video chat for a long time, you have to believe in a certain ability to help people do what they want from anywhere.” I think that suggests a worldview that would allow people to work more remotely over time. “

Zuckerberg says that the COVID-19 pandemic and his company’s efforts to respond to the changes that are forcing it to society will “help us advance some of the future technologies we are working on in the field of remote presence, since we’re just going to use it ourselves. ”

He mentions how products like the Facebook Workplace platform and portal video chat devices are changing the way his company works today. AR and VR will inevitably be part of this across the board. “At the moment VR and AR are a big group within the company, but there is still something separate from the work that most employees do every day. And I think that could change earlier, ”he added. “This is something I’m particularly happy about.”

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