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Mark Zuckerberg Showed Off These Prototype Helmets To Bolster Support For His $10 Billion Metaverse Bet

The company formerly known as Facebook said in February it plans to spend at least $10 billion this year on research and development on virtual reality and augmented reality technologies, including computerized glasses or headsets. .

On Monday, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg showed the social media company’s progress towards that goal by revealing numerous unfinished headset prototypes the company has built in its labs.

Zuckerberg has bet the future of the social media company he founded on virtual reality, which immerses users in a computer-generated world, and augmented reality, which superimposes computer-generated objects on the real world.

Last year, the company changed its name to Meta to underline the company’s new focus on the metaverse, a virtual world where Zuckerberg imagines people will spend more and more time – ideally, through computerized glasses. advancements.

If Zuckerberg is successful in making head-worn computers mainstream, then Meta would have a new revenue stream from hardware sales and would control its own hardware platform, making it less susceptible to platform changes from other companies. For example, on its latest earnings call, Meta said Apple’s recent privacy changes to the iPhone could cost it $10 billion in lost revenue this year because it hampers the company’s ability to target advertisements to specific audiences.

The virtual reality market is currently small, and there are questions about its potential size. Meta currently dominates headset sales, with its current $299 Quest 2 accounting for 78% of all headset sales in 2021, according to an estimate from IDC. But there were only 11.2 million VR headsets sold in total during the year, a far lower number than smartphones or PCs.

Meanwhile, investors are skeptical that Meta is moving away from its core business of ads and apps. The stock has fallen more than 53% so far in 2022 on fears of rising spending, mild growth forecasts, increased competition from TikTok and the effects of Apple’s iPhone privacy change that hindered mobile ads.

Monday’s protest did little to allay those fears — Meta stock closed more than 4% on Tuesday, despite a broader rally in tech stocks. US markets were closed on Monday for the June 16 holiday observation.

What Zuckerberg showed

Meta is developing next-generation virtual reality displays designed to provide an experience realistic enough for users to feel like they’re in the same room as other virtual people, Zuckerberg said during his demonstration. Current displays have low resolution, display distortion artifacts, and cannot be worn for long periods of time.

“It won’t be long before we can create scenes with perfect fidelity,” Zuckerberg said during a call with media about the company’s virtual reality efforts. “Only instead of looking at them on a screen, you’ll feel like you’re there.”

“The problem today is that the vividness of the screens we have now compared to what your eye sees in the physical world is off by an order of magnitude or more,” Zuckerberg said.

Over the past few years, Meta has regularly shown its progress in virtual reality headsets and augmented reality glasses to partners and the press, to encourage investors to consider the project interesting and to help recruit developers. and highly paid executives with experience in VR and AR.

At these roundtables, Meta regularly presents unfinished prototypes for research, which is unusual in consumer electronics. Gadget companies like to complete products and figure out how they will be made before talking to the press. For example, Apple, which works on its own helmets, never presents prototypes.

“These prototypes are custom, bespoke models that we built in our lab, so they’re not ready-to-ship products,” Zuckerberg said.

Here are the prototypes he showed:

Toffee. Butterscotch is designed to test high-resolution displays that have pixels small enough that the human eye cannot distinguish them. Butterscotch has developed a new Meta lens that limits the helmet’s field of vision, allowing fine text to be presented and displaying increased realism.

However, Meta says the prototype was “far from shippable” due to its heaviness and bulk – plus, the prototype still has exposed circuit boards.

Half Dome 3. Meta has been working on Half Dome headsets since at least 2017 to test some sort of display that can offset the focal point distance of the headset optics. With Half Dome’s technology, Meta says, image resolution and quality could be improved enough that users could create giant computer screens inside a headset to work on. The new version, 3, replaces the mechanical parts with liquid crystal lenses.

Holocake 2. Meta says it’s the thinnest and lightest VR headset the company has made and is fully capable of running any VR software if attached to a PC. However, this requires specialized lasers which are too expensive for consumer use and require additional safety precautions.

“In most VR headsets, the lenses are quite thick and need to be positioned a few centimeters from the screen so they can properly focus and shine light directly into your eyes,” Zuckerberg said. In Holocake 2, Meta uses a flat holographic lens to reduce volume, in addition to lasers.

Star explosion. Starburst is a research prototype focused on high dynamic range displays that are brighter and display a wider color gamut. Meta says HDR is the single technology that is most tied to added realism and depth.

“The goal of all of this work is to identify technical pathways that will allow us to significantly improve in a way that begins to approach the visual realism that we need,” Zuckerberg said.

Mirror Lake. Meta also showed off a concept called Mirror Lake for a ski goggle style helmet. Mirror Lake is designed to combine all the different Meta helmet technologies it develops into one next-gen screen.

“The Mirror Lake concept is promising, but at this time it is only a fully functional helmet-less concept yet designed to conclusively prove the architecture,” said Meta Chief Scientist Michael Abrash. RealityLabs. “But if it happens, it will be a game-changer for the visual VR experience.”

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