At the recent F8 conference, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg talked a big game about augmented reality — and while Facebook might be catching up in this space, its new strategy of open developer tools could see it become a leader. The tools are available starting tomorrow.
Some big ideas were talked about, and the one grabbing everyone's attention is the far-off reality of lightweight glasses displaying new information on the real world. This could be informative 2D displays for when you're exploring a new city, or it could just be you in front of a blank wall, watching TV.
As Zuckerberg said at the conference, “We don’t need a physical TV. We can buy a $1 app ‘TV’ and put it on the wall and watch it.”
He was focused on some fairly small stuff in the short-term, though. Floating chess boards, virtual steam rising from a coffee mug... These are fairly uninspired uses of the technology, some of which won't even be the stuff available in the first run. A games platform was only teased at — but once it reaches maturity, AR games have the massive potential to display different information to two or more players even though they're in the same physical room. It's a new area of design sure to provide some interesting stuff.
The goal of the dev tools is to lure more developers to Facebook with its vast big data setup and machine learning capabilities. It seems like a winning play, long term — any AR professional or enthusiast would be tempted by that massive library of image recognition.
Facebook is, along with Google, on the cutting edge of machine learning in image recognition software. All those images uploaded by users provide the perfect playground for a machine learning system to slowly learn whether the subject of a particular shot is a chair or a table.
The two giants are even in a bit of a bidding war for talent, resorting to various different means to attract the greatest minds in the field, some as open sourcing some of its tech. And Facebook's latest move lines up with the semi-recent decision to open source its deep learning hardware, in that it's something that will make Facebook developers proud of the company they work for.
I've always been a bit more excited for AR than VR, personally. Who wouldn't want to instantly load up a game of Warhammer on their coffee table? Or play a game of 3D space RTS Homeworld in their living room?
The current set of tools is for use in the Facebook app's camera, but this could easily be expanded to other hardware down the line.