Архив метки: VR

Facebook reorganizes Oculus for AR/VR’s long-haul

Facebook is again looking to whip Oculus into shape for its 10-year journey towards making virtual reality mainstream. According to two sources, Facebook reorganized its AR and VR team this week from a divisional structure focused around products to a functional structure focused around technology areas of expertise. While no one was laid off, the change could eliminate redundancies by uniting specialists so they can iterate towards long-term progress rather than being separated into groups dedicated to particular gadgets.
Facebook confirmed the reorg to TechCrunch, with a spokesperson providing this statement: “We made some changes to the AR/VR organization earlier this week. These were internal changes and won’t impact consumers or our partners in the developer community.” Oculus CTO John Carmack and Oculus co-founder/newly-promoted Head of PC VR Nate Mitchell will remain in their leadership positions within VP of AR/VR Andrew ‘Boz’ Bosworth’s hardware wing of the company.
The shift obviously communicates that Facebook believes Oculus could be running more effectively. Organizing the company around areas of expertise rather than broader divisions is probably more appropriate for a moonshot effort that can’t afford redundancies, on the other hand, keeping expertise siloed could isolate new approaches and advancements from reaching other teams. As the company builds out its first full lineup of headsets, there seems to be significant overlap in the tech problems and products bring tackled by those working on mobile and PC products.
TechCrunch reported earlier this week that the company is planning to release a new Rift headset as early as 2019, possibly called the Rift S, which will featured upgraded displays and an inside-out tracking system. The company’s “Rift 2” project, codenamed Caspar, was left behind in the reorganization, a source tells us. We can’t confirm whether any other products or concepts have been shelved.

After canceling ‘Rift 2’ overhaul, Oculus plans a modest update to flagship VR headset

While an immersive virtual world that users can hang out and communicate in certainly seems to fit Facebook’s broader mission, the company has spent the better part of the past few years deciding how a costly, ambitious venture like Oculus fits into its corporate structure.
First, things went smoothly. The company and its empowered co-founders were building out a developer network and prepping for the launch of their Rift headset after creating a successful partnership with Samsung for the Gear VR. Then, the company’s good fortune turned as the Rift headset was racked by expensive delays and Oculus failed to ship the company’s Touch motion controllers at launch losing some initial ground to HTC. 
By the end of 2016, it was announced that co-founder Brendan Iribe was out as CEO and that the company would be reorganizing around divisions focused on things like PC VR, mobile and content with Xiaomi exec Hugo Barra coming aboard as VP of VR to lead the new effort working directly beneath CEO Mark Zuckerberg. An additional layer of oversight has been built in since then, with Bosworth was put in charge of the company’s consumer hardware ambitions with Oculus as a central pillar. His title is now VP of AR/VR.
The absorption of Oculus deeper into Facebook’s corporate structure was a trend that soon replicated itself as the company looked to rein in the independent teams under a more cohesive vision. The culmination of this was a major executive reshuffle earlier this year that changed the landscape for how divisions within the company were managed.
Now, they’re changing things up even more.
Oculus Go
The new structure sounds like it could coordinate efforts around more general lines like hardware and software allowing insights to flow more intuitively across Facebook’s planned devices.
Given the slow adoption of VR and engineering challenges of AR headsets, which at TechCrunch’s LA conference last month Facebook’s head of AR Ficus Kirkpatrick confirmed it was building, this structure could help Oculus iterate its way to long-term success rather than just getting the next product out the door.

Facebook confirms it’s building augmented reality glasses

If Facebook is going to beat companies solely focused on AR like Magic Leap, and potential incumbent invaders like Apple if it so chooses, it needs to maximize efficiency. And if it’s going to get both developers and users excited about these next-generation computing platforms, it will have to produce products that make cutting-edge technologies feel unified and accessible. That’s a lot easier when everyone’s not stepping on each other’s virtual shoes.

Facebook reorganizes Oculus for AR/VR’s long-haul

‘Facebook Avatars’ is its new clone of Snapchat’s Bitmoji

Hidden inside the code of Facebook’s Android app is an unreleased feature called Facebook Avatars that lets people build personalized, illustrated versions of themselves for use as stickers in Messenger and comments. It will let users customize their avatar to depict their skin color, hair style and facial features. Facebook Avatars is essentially Facebook’s version of Snapchat’s acquisition, Bitmoji, which has spent years in the top-10 apps chart.
Back in October I wrote that “Facebook seriously needs its own Bitmoji,” and it seems the company agrees. Facebook has become the identity layer for the internet, allowing you to bring your personal info and social graph to other services. But as the world moves toward visual communication, a name or static profile pic aren’t enough to represent us and our breadth of emotions. Avatars hold the answer, as they can be contorted to convey our reactions to all sorts of different situations when we’re too busy or camera-shy to take a photo.

The screenhots come courtesy of eagle-eyed developer Jane Manchun Wong, who found the Avatars in the Facebook for Android application package — a set of files that often contain features that are unreleased or in testing. Her digging also contributed to TechCrunch’s reports about Instagram’s music stickers and Twitter’s unlaunched encrypted DMs.
Facebook confirmed it’s building Avatars, telling me, “We’re looking into more ways to help people express themselves on Facebook.” However, the feature is still early in development and Facebook isn’t sure when it will start publicly testing.

In the onboarding flow for the feature, Facebook explains that “Your Facebook Avatar is a whole new way to express yourself on Facebook. Leave expressive comments with personalized stickers. Use your new avatar stickers in your Messenger group and private chats.” The Avatars should look like the images on the far right of these screenshot tests. You can imagine Facebook creating an updating reel of stickers showing your avatar in happy, sad, confused, angry, bored or excited scenes to fit your mood.
Currently it’s unclear whether you’ll have to configure your Avatar from a blank starter face, or whether Facebook will use machine vision and artificial intelligence to create one based on your photos. The latter is how the Facebook Spaces VR avatars (previewed in April 2017) are automatically generated.
Facebook shows off its 3D VR avatars at F8 2018. The new Facebook Avatars are 2D and can be used in messaging and comments.
Using AI to start with a decent lookalike of you could entice users to try Avatars and streamline the creation process so you just have to make small corrections. However, the AI could creep people out, make people angry if it misrepresents them or generate monstrous visages no one wants to see. Given Facebook’s recent privacy scandals, I’d imagine it would play it conservatively with Avatars and just ask users to build them from scratch. If Avatars grow popular and people are eager to use them, it could always introduce auto-generation from your photos later.
Facebook has spent at least three years trying to figure out avatars for VR. What started as generic blue heads evolved to take on basic human characteristics, real skin tones and more accurate facial features, and are now getting quite lifelike. You can see that progression up top. Last week at F8, Facebook revealed that it’s developing a way to use facial tracking sensors to map real-time expressions onto a photo-realistic avatar of a user so they can look like themselves inside VR, but without the headset on.

But as long as Facebook’s Avatars are trapped in VR, they’re missing most of their potential.
Bitmoji’s parent company Bitstrips launched in 2008, and while its comic strip creator was cool, it was the personalized emoji avatar feature that was most exciting. Snapchat acquired Bitstrips for a mere $64.2 million in early 2016, but once it integrated Bitmoji into its chat feature as stickers, the app took off. It’s often risen higher than Snapchat itself, and even Facebook’s ubiquitous products on the App Store charts, and was the No. 1 free iOS app as recently as February. Now Snapchat lets you use your Bitmoji avatar as a profile pic, online status indicator in message threads, as 2D stickers and as 3D characters that move around in your Snaps.

It’s actually surprising that Facebook has waited this long to clone Bitmoji, given how popular Instagram Stories and its other copies of Snapchat features have become. Facebook comment reels and Messenger threads could get a lot more emotive, personal and fun when the company eventually launches its own Avatars.
Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly said that visual communication is replacing text, but that’s forced users to either use generic emoji out of convenience or deal with the chore and self-consciousness of shooting a quick photo or video. Especially in Stories, which will soon surpass feeds as the main way we share social media, people need a quick way to convey their identity and emotion. Avatars let your identity scale to whatever feeling you want to transmit without the complications of the real world.
For more on the potential of Facebook Avatars, read our piece calling for their creation:

Facebook seriously needs its own Bitmoji

‘Facebook Avatars’ is its new clone of Snapchat’s Bitmoji

Grasshopper, a learn-to-code app from Google’s Area 120 incubator, goes live

Google’s internal incubator, Area 120, is today releasing its next creation: a learn-to-code mobile app for beginners called Grasshopper. At launch, the app teaches would-be coders how to write JavaScript, via short lessons on their iPhone or Android device. The goal is to get coders proficient in the basics and core concepts, so they can take the next steps in their coding education – whether that’s taking online classes, attending a bootcamp, or playing around in Grasshopper’s own online playground where they can create interactive animations.
Like other Area 120 projects, Grasshopper was built by a small team of Googlers, who had a personal interest in working on the project.
“Coding is becoming such an essential skill, and we want to make it possible for everyone to learn even when life gets busy,” the app’s About Us page explains. “We made Grasshopper to help folks like you get into coding in a fun and easy way.”
Area 120 has now been around for just over two years, but Google’s hadn’t heavily publicized its efforts until last year, when it launched a dedicated website for the incubator. To date, Area 120 has released things like Advr, an advertising format for VR; personal stylist Tailor; emoji messenger Supersonic; a job-matching service in Bangladesh, a booking tool called Appointments; and the YouTube co-watching app UpTime.
The incubator’s goal – beyond potentially finding Google’s next breakthrough product – is to retain talented engineers who may have otherwise left the company to work on their own passion projects or startups.
Grasshopper – whose name is a tribute to early programming pioneer Grace Hopper – was already known to be one of the projects in the works at Area 120.
However, it hadn’t launched to the public until today.
The app itself offers a series of courses, beginning with “The Fundamentals,” where users learn how code works, along with various terminology like functions, variables, strings, for loops, arrays, conditionals, operators, and objects. Grasshopper then moves into two more courses where coders learn to draw shapes using the D3 library, and later create more complex functions using D3.
The courses are actually designed as a series of puzzles and quizzes that increasingly get more difficult, explains Laura Holmes, founder of Grasshopper.
“Each coding puzzle has the student writing real JavaScript code using a custom built code editing environment. The student is given a challenge, and the user has to solve it using code, but it only takes a few taps to write out,” she says. “Each time the student runs code, they’re given real-time feedback to help guide them towards solving the challenge. Many students have told us that this real-time feedback feels like a tutor, since the feedback feels so tailored to the student’s current state.”
Also included are motivational features like achievements, progress indicators and coding streaks.
This curriculum will expand over the next couple of months. Grasshopper will add more content to The Fundamentals section as well as a new course.

The team says it’s not currently focused on expanding beyond JavaScript, a language used by over 70 percent of professional developers, the site notes.
“We see Grasshopper as a launchpad to help introduce people to code. For one-third of our users, Grasshopper is the first time they’ve ever encountered coding,” says Holmes. “Many people think that coding isn’t for them or don’t have the access and time needed to consider it as a viable career path, and we want to help change that perception,” she adds.
In early tests, there have been over 5,000 graduates from Grasshopper’s program. 47 percent were students from backgrounds that are traditionally underrepresented in tech, and 68 percent of users said they’re more motivated to learn to code after using Grasshopper.
Holmes, a senior product manager at Google, leads the Grasshopper team. She was previously the first Product Manager on Project Fi and Google Tag Manager.
Other Grasshopper team members include CTO Elliott Sprehn, a staff software engineer and formerly the tech lead for web platform architecture on Chrome; Curriculum Manager Heather Smith; software engineers Lucas Mullens and Phil Nova; and Curriculum Specialist Frankie Mercado.
The Grasshopper app is now available worldwide on both iOS and Android, but only in English.

Grasshopper, a learn-to-code app from Google’s Area 120 incubator, goes live

Inside Oculus and Black Eyed Peas’ VR comic book

 “When people view VR, it’s an over-sensory experience like ‘What the fuck?!’ ” will.i.am says, wildly spinning his head around as you can see in the GIF below. That was the Black Eyed Peas’ frontman’s inspiration for creating a 90-minute VR comic book that moves at your pace and lets emotion sink in instead of battering you with visuals. Read More

Inside Oculus and Black Eyed Peas’ VR comic book

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 focuses on AI, VR and battery life

 Qualcomm teased its new flagship smartphone chip at day one of its Summit in Maui, and, as expected, the company’s got a lot more to offer us on day two. The Snapdragon 845 is the latest premium processor, due out next year. And like its predecessor, the 835, you can expect the thing to be nearly ubiquitous on 2018’s flagship handsets — not to mention a few Windows PCs. Read More

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 focuses on AI, VR and battery life