Earlier in the day, Facebook launched a test of its new virtual-reality remote work app, described as an “open beta,” for the Oculus Quest called Horizon Workrooms. This remote work app allows users through the Oculus Quest 2 headsets to hold meetings as avatar versions of themselves. The beta test of Facebook’s Workroom app comes at a time where many companies continue to work from home, especially as a new variant of the COVID-19 continues to sweep across the globe shutting down physical workspaces.
The test of this innovation witnessed Facebook inviting journalists to share its vision of the future office. Instead of attending in person or dialing in via Zoom, reporters donned headsets and used digital avatars of themselves to attend the company’s first media event exclusively in virtual reality. This gimmick by Facebook marked the launch of Horizon Workrooms, the new free Facebook app designed to allow employees to work together in a shared, imaginary office. The app can project a user’s real-life computer into this world, viewed through Facebook’s own Oculus virtual reality headsets, allowing workers to sit with colleagues, chat and collaborate using virtual whiteboards.
Facebook sees its latest tech launch as an early step toward building the futuristic “metaverse” that its CEO – Mark Zuckerberg has touted in recent weeks. Its launch is just one small part of Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg’s sweeping ambition to build an immersive, avatar-inhabited digital space known as the metaverse where people can socialize, but most importantly also work. Zuckerberg says “The idea is you go in, wherever you are, you can have your perfect set-up, and people can stop in and collaborate quickly. But it’s really great for focused work,” Zuckerberg — in avatar form — told reporters. “What we’re trying to move towards is a world where a lot of what we do is in here, we think it’s going to be a big use case for VR.” In this virtual space, you and your colleagues can work better together from anywhere. Join a VR meeting as an avatar, or dial in from your computer. Use the virtual whiteboard to sketch ideas. Bring your computer and keyboard into VR to work together with others, or just have expressive conversations that feel more like you’re together in person.
According to reports, the world’s largest social network has invested heavily in virtual and augmented reality, developing hardware such as its Oculus VR headsets, working on AR glasses and wristband technologies, and buying a bevy of VR gaming studios, including BigBox VR. The social media group has hired more than 10,000 staff to work on various projects in the space, including the development of AR glasses and the metaverse, a persistent virtual space that can be accessed from different devices. What impresses the most about Facebook’s Workrooms is the way that it brings parts of the outside world into VR. Up to 16 people in VR can be in a Workroom together, while an additional 34 people can join over video calls without wearing a headset. A companion desktop app lets you beam a live feed of your computer screen over your virtual table space. Thanks to the Quest’s hand-tracking and front-facing cameras, a virtual representation of your physical keyboard sits underneath your screen for typing into a barebones web app Facebook built for note-taking and managing calendars.
Facebook’s vice president of its Reality Labs group, Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, said the new Workrooms app gives “a good sense” of how the company envisions elements of the metaverse. “This is kind of one of those foundational steps in that direction,” Bosworth told reporters during a VR news conference. So far, the Workrooms initiative appears to bring the vision of Mark Zuckerberg into existence, as it serves as an entry point that would draw users into Virtual reality. However, the app will be free. Workrooms will not show advertisements, the company said, adding that it had “no plans to do so in the future”. As Workrooms launches, tech enthusiasts think Facebook might be entering a fairly sparse market that is inhabited largely by smaller specialized groups. The success of Workroom will largely depend on whether businesses and non-gaming consumers are ready to embrace wearing cumbersome headsets and swap Zoom fatigue for glossy cartoon versions of themselves. Also, the success of Horizon Workrooms may likely hinge on whether Facebook can provide adequate reassurances to workers that their virtual office life remains private.
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