Facebook may already be leading the race to ship a viable virtual reality headset for consumers with its $2 billion acquisition of Oculus VR, but the world's biggest social network is not stopping there when it comes to exploring different modes of reality.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg confirmed at Vanity Fair's New Establishment Summit that the company is looking into developing its own augmented reality technology, although he did not provide any details about what type of AR gadget we can expect because it's still "a bit far out."
As opposed to VR, which puts users in a fully immersive world that shuts out the entire physical reality, AR augments the world around us by superimposing layers of digital images that users can interact with, presumably to enhance how they view the outside world.
In a sense, while VR carries the risk of having users disconnect from the world by diving into a totally different reality, AR aims to improve their' experience of the world and help them connect with it better. For instance, think about walking past a restaurant down the street where one can see how many likes the restaurant currently has on its Facebook page. Or Facebook can perhaps take its AR applications to a whole new level by enabling video conferencing in AR.
"If you think about phones, it's still a little awkward to take it out of your pocket," Zuckerberg said. "In the future, if you want to look around you should be able to look around. If you want to select something, you should be able to look at it."
It's not likely we'll see a heavy-looking headset like the Oculus Rift or Microsoft's HoloLens. Michael Abrash, Oculus chief scientist, said while VR has already gone "past the knee of the curve," AR is a new ballgame with different problems to tackle. For one thing, Facebook faces the challenge of developing something that the user can wear all day without causing his own physical discomfort and the discomfort of other people who are concerned about their own privacy.
Abrash said Facebook is likely going to come out with a pair of high-tech contact lenses or glasses, perhaps not very different from Google Glass, which is likely receiving its own AR treatment as well. But Facebook envisions its AR solution as something that can go between AR and VR.
"It's very interesting; it's something we'd all use if it worked well," Abrash said. "It's kind of seamless. Maybe it'll be contacts [or glasses]. You'll have something on it and it'll be VR and AR as you choose."