Since Facebook’s 2017 F8 Developer Conference kicked off on Tuesday, the social media giant has made a raft of announcements about the new features it has in the works. From advances in augmented reality to virtual assistants, read on for the latest offerings from Mark Zuckerberg and company.
During his keynote, Zuckerberg highlighted various forms of AR technology that could soon appear on our smartphones. He previewed tools that will allow users to place virtual objects in real places, such as a note on a refrigerator or artwork on blank white walls. In one demonstration, he showcased the ability to turn flat images into 3D scenes and overlay directions or set up a gameboard.
Two tools within the Facebook app’s camera are now available. AR Studio is in closed beta, and developers can apply for access to create effects based on object detection (think virtual steam billowing from a cup of coffee). Frame Studio is available to the public and allows users to create their own image filters and overlays.
The company announced the beta launch of a social virtual reality app called Facebook Spaces. If you own an Oculus Rift headset, with the app, you can make a cartoon avatar of yourself, and you and three friends can virtually hang out in just about any setting you can imagine, from Paris to outer space.
For those who have held off downloading the Messenger app until this point, it seems that Facebook is hoping to lure more users with the promise of a more multilevel experience. Messenger will soon integrate the ability to play games such as Words With Friends, and an Apple Music extension is on its way, on top of the current partnership with Spotify. Users can also look forward to a mobile payments function in Messenger for purchases such as event tickets.
M, Facebook’s answer to Siri or Alexa, will now be able to drop into users’ conversations in Messenger. If someone asks a question about what to order for dinner, M can offer suggestions and then launch a window within the app where the user can make a purchase through a third party.
At F8, the company also launched Chat Extensions. Now in Messenger, a chat bot can be a group experience, rather than a one-on-one interaction. For example, a group might use theScore’s bot to follow a game or Kayak’s to make travel plans.
Owing to Zuckerberg’s goal of merging the digital and physical worlds, Facebook and Udacity are partnering to organize meetups in cities all over the country, where developers can learn new skills and work together.
At the conference, Regina Dugan, the head of the company’s research and development moonshot division Building 8, said that she and her team are currently working on a neural interface that would enable someone to type with just their mind -- up to 100 words per minute.
Building 8 is also developing skin sensor technology that would essentially allow someone to hear through their skin. The team is at work on software and hardware that would make the skin mimic the way that the ear and brain process sound frequencies. This artificial cochlea would allow the brain to recognize symbols, words and patterns based on what a person touches.
A new point of view
At F8, the company also rolled out a pair of Surround 360-degree cameras -- the x24 and x6. The cameras will be completed later this year. The company plans to license the technology to manufacturers in lieu of an open-source model. Last year, a 360-degree camera was announced at F8. It reportedly cost more than $25,000 to produce.
Facebook laid out a few initiatives at F8 toward its goal of providing internet connectivity in places that do not currently have access. Tether-Tennas are tethered helicopters meant to act as a backup when natural disasters interrupt connections. Another program, the Terragraph project, uses antennas to close wireless coverage gaps in cities. The ongoing Aquila project is working on drones to provide internet connectivity.
During the conference, Michael Abrash, the chief scientist at Oculus Research, made the prediction that by 2022, augmented reality glasses will be available to consumers, and they could eclipse the popularity of the cell phone.