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Facebook is testing a vision for remote work using augmented and virtual reality

Facebook has long believed in the promise of virtual and augmented reality, expanding beyond entertainment, and we are now getting a clearer view of what the future might look like now that the current pandemic is reshaping how companies everywhere think of remote work.

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

Not much – the video is only eight seconds long. But this shows the idea that Facebook is performing as Bosworth thinks it may be the future of the job. We see several floating displays that are quickly resized and rearranged by the user in the form of a touch gesture that resembles a pinch, drag and zoom.

Of course, these displays are virtual, but the world around the user is real – it’s thanks to the switch. Oculus uses the term to use cameras pointing outwards at Rift or Quest VR headphones to see the room around you. Passthrough is used to create a virtual network barrier that restricts Oculus software to a specific area that you draw using the Touch controller. The feature is also useful if you are just curious about where you are in a room or how close you are, for example, to a wall or furniture.

But here, in this demonstration, Bosworth says Facebook imagines a mix of AR and VR – what the tech industry calls mixed reality – that uses the past to show you the keyboard as you type. In this way, you can have a tangible effect of using a physical keyboard without worrying about the space you will 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 view, which appears to contain shortcuts and other quick performance-related features that you can get at the touch of a finger.

“In the future, we could create a super-powered extended workspace with multiple custom screens in VR, indistinguishable from the limitations of physical monitors. It would use technologies like Passthrough to create a mixed reality with performance that allows people to switch between real and virtual worlds at any time, improving spatial awareness, while offering the flexibility we’re used to with laptops and other shared devices. ” wrote in a blog post today Facebook. “By combining the flexibility of new inputs such as hand tracking with knowledge of everyday input devices such as keyboards and mice, we could give people the best of both worlds.”

This is not a completely new thing. We’ve seen such demonstrations in Microsoft’s HoloLens and the Magic Leap One headphones. Facebook and Oculus have also shown similar capabilities in the context of demonstrating Oculus hand tracking and other features that would be inseparable when you actually wear something on your face while doing meaningful work, such as writing and reading what we can only hopefully it will be readable text on a virtual screen. (The demonstration demonstrated by Bosworth was captured by the headphones themselves, so it’s hard to tell what the user actually looks like.)

But it is remarkable that Facebook accelerated its work in mixed reality during the COVID-19 pandemic. The company already has an Oculus plant designed to sell headphones to companies. Facebook and Oculus working together on hand tracking, more realistic avatars, spatial audio and more powerful wireless technology illustrate how seriously the company is committed to the idea of ​​virtual presence and making it as powerful as possible.

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

“We will be the most remote-focused company on our scale,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in an interview with On the edge“We have to do this in a careful and responsible way, so we will do it in a measured way. But I think it’s possible in the next five to 10 years – maybe closer to 10 out of five, but somewhere in that range – I think we could reach about half of the companies that work remotely permanently. ”

Zuckerberg specifically developed AR and VR as options that could make remote work more viable in the long run by giving remote employees a sense of presence during meetings and other collaborative efforts. “VR and AR are linked to remote human presence,” Zuckerberg said. “So if you’ve been in VR and AR and video chat for a long time, you have to believe in some capacity to help people do whatever they want, wherever they are. So I think that suggests a worldview that would allow people to work more remotely over time. “

Zuckerberg says the COVID-19 pandemic and his company’s moves to respond to societal change “will help us develop some of the future technology we’re working on around a remote presence because we’re just going to use it constantly ourselves.” ”

He mentions how products like the Facebook Workplace platform and Portal video chat devices are changing the way his company works today. Below, this will inevitably include AR and VR. “Currently, VR and AR are a large group in the company, but they are still somewhat excluded from the work that most employees do on a daily basis. And I think that can change sooner, “he added. “So that’s something that particularly excites me.”

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