Oculus’s chief scientist: VR will succeed because your vision sucks

27 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Facebook is planning to test its 747-sized internet drones this summer.

“As part of our Internet.org effort to connect the world, we’ve designed unmanned aircraft that can beam internet access down to people from the sky,” said Zuckerberg in a blog post. “We’ve successfully completed our first test flight of these aircraft in the UK.” Developed by Ascenta, a Somerset-based designer of solar-powered drones bought by Facebook in March 2014, the drones will be able to fly at altitudes of 60,000 feet for months at a time on solar power.

Facebook’s ambitious plan to bring internet to the entire world with a fleet of broadband-beaming unmanned aerial vehicles has taken a step closer to fruition. They will have wingspans greater than 29m, or that of a Boeing 737, but weigh less than a car. “Aircraft like these will help connect the whole world because they can affordably serve the 10% of the world’s population that live in remote communities without existing internet infrastructure,” said Zuckerberg. It’s much easier for mobile and internet service providers to recoup the costs of infrastructure instalment in urban environments, but harder to justify in sparsely populated areas. “So we’re investing in radical new approaches.

You have to have satellites, drones and other things that don’t require the massive investments of traditional infrastructure,” explains Facebook’s chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer. Samsung’s Oculus-powered Gear VR headset is now on sale for $200, and Oculus Rift is expected to finally hit store shelves this year for somewhere in the $200-$400 range. The drone — dubbed Aquila — is one aspect of Facebook’s Internet.org plan to extend web access to what it estimates are 1.1-billion to 2.8-billion people without it today. Google is also planning to provide internet access to non-connected areas using both high altitude balloons and drones, buying American drone firm Titan Aerospace in April last year. Facebook and rival Google are experimenting with multiple technologies to reach people unlikely to be served by traditional land lines or cellular networks.

Facebook says the vehicle will have the wingspan of a commercial passenger jet and the length of “six or seven [Toyota] Priuses,” but will only weigh as much as four car tires. Oculus Chief Scientist Michael Abrash took the stage at Facebook’s F8 Developers Conference on Thursday and barely mentioned the company’s game-changing product. They cited the need to vet the drone’s safety and communication features as well as form partnerships with carriers. “We are working towards a real test flight this summer sometime,” vice-president of engineering Jay Parikh said in an interview on the sidelines of Facebook’s annual developer conference. “Depending on how this test flight goes, we’ll see what happens,” he added. “This is a big plane, this is a big project and it’s never been done before.” Among other challenges, Mr Parikh said the solar and battery technology needed to power the Aquila drone had only recently been developed. When asked if Facebook would develop its own service to compete with global wireless carriers, Parikh said it would go against the company’s “core mission.”I think it would take a lot longer if we were going to do it all by ourselves,” he told The Wall Street Journal. “It would take a lot of money and I don’t think it’s sustainable long-term.” Private companies such as Facebook are at the bleeding edge of drone research, but regulations aren’t keeping pace with the speed of development.

That phenomenon is a perfect example of how our vision fails us on a daily basis—and VR headset makers like Oculus will use that failure to convince our brains that the worlds they create are real. Other companies, too, have suffered from the slow pace of drone regulation from aviation bodies such as the FAA — Amazon complained earlier this week that the delivery drone the federal body approved after several months is already obsolete.

The McGurk effect describes how what you see affects what you hear, like lips mouthing one word with a voice track saying another. “Reality is what our brain reconstructs it to be,” Abrash said. “Our experience of the world is an illusion, one that evolution has honed to be highly functional.” Once you realize just how easily the eye is tricked, virtual reality’s potential to become the next generation of computing becomes a much more convincing proposition. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Wednesday that Facebook is testing its own virtual efforts sans Oculus with spherical videos in News Feed, which is a way for people to experience places they’ve never been without leaving Facebook.

Not even Facebook has those answers, but with Oculus working furiously to turn its Crescent Bay prototype into a real consumer product, and with developers on board building great virtual apps, we’re closer than ever before to a truly immersive virtual experience.

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