Our intrepid Director of Immersive Technologies, Sam Watts, flew once more to the sunlit lowlands of San Jose, California to attend this years Oculus Connect developers event, hosted by Facebook, to hear from the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Abrash and John Carmack about what the organisation has in store for VR and AR, over the coming weeks, months and years. Below he takes a look at the big announcements for hardware, platform and software before diving into what Oculus for Business means for us and you, as our clients and partners.
For those of you who follow us on Twitter, you might have seen some live tweets as it happened but we appreciate the timezone difference was very UK-unfriendly, so we’ve covered the main points below for you.
Last year, it was suggested that the launch of the Oculus Quest standalone all-in-one VR device would round off what they saw as VR v1.0, so it was great to hear this year that further enhancements to the device are coming (or are already now available). The first of these is now available to every owner of the Oculus Quest, in the form of Passthrough+, which was introduced with the Oculus Rift S headset earlier this year. In the immediate term, this means that the passthrough camera support for the device will be more natural and less distorted, thanks to machine vision and image algorithms that takes the output of the four corner-located cameras and flattens them out into a more pleasant view for the user. In the long term, it will help the cameras more realistically and accurately map real world into the virtual environments, as part of Michael Abrash’s longer term vision for a combined device mixing VR and AR together.
Another feature announced and now available for Oculus Quest owners, is the support for [select] 3DoF Oculus Go titles, meaning some titles already purchased on the Oculus Go Store will now work with the new 3DoF mode for Quest, so you don’t have to carry two devices around with you. If you have an Oculus Quest, you need to allow it to update to OS9.0 in order to get these enhancements. Once updated, you’ll find a Quest/Go drop-down menu toggle in your library of apps to change between.
Sticking with the Oculus Quest and launching next month (November) is Oculus Link, a new cable designed to allow users and developers to plug their Quest into the VR PC and either enjoy the vast catalogue of Oculus Rift titles on their Quest, or speed up development by not having to make a Quest APK build every time they want to test something out on device. For those who decry the limited current Oculus Quest catalogue, this will open up a whole new world of experiences to owners likely to have skipped the Rift generation, as well as add power and portability options to take advantage of the increase optics and resolution of the Oculus Quest for older titles.
Looking a bit further out, to early 2020, it was also announced that Oculus Quest will get hand tracking (again likely to have been improved with accuracy due to Passthrough+ support), removing the need for controllers for input, making access to hardware amongst technophobes even greater. We can’t wait to get the beta SDK and implement it into our vehicle reversing gesture-based health & safety training application Rear Guard, making it match 1-2-1 from virtual to real world for realistic, meaningful training. We hope that the engineers at Oculus will see sense to ensure it can be activated and used with one-hand being detected only, to ensure the device is accessible to all, no matter how many limbs are present in the real world.
The opening keynote was closed out by Michael Abrash, once more taking to the stage to highlight some of the R&D undertaken by Facebook Reality Labs and his thoughts about where the technology might end up in a few years time. Whilst there was continued talk of steps being taken to enable real world to be mixed with the virtual world, it was the update to the Half Dome prototype that caught our eye. Having tried out a very early prototype of a similar system earlier in the year at VRX Europe, multi-focal lenses and auto-switching between them, combined with eye-tracking is a very exciting future-gazing capability to bring higher quality and more natural imagery to VR, allowing a greater sense of depth and close-up resolution. 3D artists had better be prepping their efficient pipelines for high resolution assets now.
The other exciting element, although previously shown in videos, was further discussion of the facial tracking and real time mapping onto realistic avatars for increased telepresence and social worlds. How all this maps into development of mixing real and virtual worlds was the announcement that Facebook are working on their own AR headset (which was suggested at OC5 last year) but also their own digital twin layers, Facebook Live Maps, for persistent data between devices, users and purposes.
The big announcement on the software side from Facebook was the reveal of Horizon, their own user-created virtual world in development. Taking what they have learned developing and releasing Facebook Spaces, Oculus Venues and Oculus Rooms, Horizon will essentially be a sandbox MMO for VR.
There were a number of big game IP name announcements too, and the highlight of over $100M worth of software having been sold through the Oculus Store ecosystems (Rift/Go/Quest), and whilst this is fantastic for the home consumer, we were there for the Oculus for Business and enterprise news.
In the past, some have complained that the strong focus of VR for gaming hurt the messaging of the use cases adoption for other sectors, making some believe that the devices were solely aimed at the gaming market, so it was good to see a strong emphasis on enterprise and training this year.
Following on from the announcement at f8 earlier in the year, the revamped Oculus for Business platform is nearing launch, in November this year. We have supplied and worked with Oculus for Business for a couple of years now, since the enterprise licence units have been available to deploy for our clients and partners, so we have felt the pain of setting up multiple devices, one by one at volume.
It’s great to see that an enterprise-strength MDM solution is now nearly here ready for use, allowing us to setup multiple devices at once and push out builds to specific units as required, whilst also locking down headsets to remove the consumer aspects of the library, features and enable a kiosk mode, much like mobile and tablet systems have had for years. We’re currently testing the new system and will be in touch soon with more information, if you are already using Oculus for Business units deployed by us, nearer the time the system goes live.
The emphasis on enterprise was further strengthened by a number of talks and panels over the two day event focusing on specific aspects of training, deployment, design and onboarding corporations with the hardware. There were four sessions related to enterprise training and learning & development in total; “Scalable, Professional, Reliable”, “From Demo to Pilot to Deployment: Getting Buy-in for Enterprise VR”, “Transforming Corporate Training with VR” and “Designing Research to Measure the Impact of VR”. Each of these talks are embedded below for your viewing.
We felt Isabel Tewes talk about demo > proof-of-concept > pilot was especially on-point, having gone through this process ourselves with Vodafone and Lloyds Banking Group. We also loved the table of superpowers that VR gives learners, covering most of the same benefits of using the technology for training we tell our clients and partners about. Finally, a run through of the new MDM system for device management was shown, although we had been party to a sneak peek a few weeks before.
The panel discussion from PwC US, Hilton [Hotels] and other content vendors covered many topics and thoughts we often tell our clients and partners when deciding how to incorporate VR, based upon their experiences, although it should be noted that all the deployments covered were 360º video-based, not realtime 3D VR that we majoritively create. You can remind yourself what our Head of Learning Design thinks about the two types of content in the blog post here.
It was good to see other use cases of VR for training around soft skills; we’re certainly glad our experiences created for Lloyds Banking Group are focussed on employee mental health and effective communication with ongoing team members and clients as a positive use case for immersive technologies within training.
Next up was another panel talking about successes and lessons learned from deploying training experiences within corporations.
Finally, whilst not labelled as an Oculus for Business talk, looking at how to capture data and metrics around user interactions and experiences is still valid for enterprise training, since we need to know and determine the impact of the content created, as well as inform learner profiles effectively within existing systems used to highlight ROI and ensure KPIs are met, validating the use case for VR in training, simulation and learning & development.
So that’s a wrap for another year of Oculus Connect with some great news and features releasing soon or early next year to continue to make development of VR easier and too the deployment of units into enterprise, removing barriers to entry and adoption, widening the valid use cases across all sectors. It’s always heartening to listen and hear from other developers going through the same pains but even more so, to hear that the platform holders are listening and working on improving workflows and deployment capabilities for us and you, our clients and partners who have explored the virtual possibilities with us through the years so far.