Meta poured another $4 billion into AR/VR development in the first three months of 2023, putting it on track to best the $13.7 billion that it spent on its metaverse-aligned projects throughout 2022.
So when can we expect to see the next stage of its VR social experience – and will it be any better than the heavily criticized, highly pixelated examples that Zuck and Co. have shared thus far, which don’t seem to reflect such massive spend?
While there are no ‘next-level’ examples just yet, Meta has shared some of its latest VR updates this week, including a new project which will enable people to use VR in a moving vehicle, as well as members-only spaces in Horizon Worlds, its VR social space.
First off, on in-car VR – Meta chief Mark Zuckerberg has posted a new video of Meta’s project, in partnership with BMW, which will enable people to use a Quest headset while on the go, by syncing the unit with the car’s own sensor array to maximize the experience.
As you can see in this example, the new process enables Meta’s VR system to effectively anchor virtual objects to a moving car, by utilizing variable spatial and location elements to facilitate the interface.
This will not only enable you to experience immersive VR while on a road trip, but the pass-through elements will also give you new ways to interact with the world around you, via digital overlays that can be superimposed on your view.
So, cool, right? Now you can use VR in your car. For the 0.0000001% of the world’s population that have been asking for this functionality, that’s probably big news.
And Meta seems to believe that it could spark a major shift:
“If we get it right, this technology could revolutionize travel in cars, trains, planes and beyond, unlocking new forms of hands-free communication, entertainment and utility - giving us far more value than the screens and instruments we’re used to seeing in vehicles today.”
Not sure it’s going to revolutionize anything – but maybe, in a metaverse-led future, where everyone’s wearing more slimmed-down AR and VR units, in more environments, this could enable a broader range of experiences that are tied into your actual surroundings, and without the sometimes restrictive requirements of VR activity field setting.
I mean, I don’t know that many people are going to want to be wearing expensive VR units while traveling on public transport - but Meta is also looking a long way ahead on this.
On social VR, Meta’s also expanded the beta test of its members-only areas in Horizon Worlds, its virtual world-building platform for VR.
So the graphics aren’t any better as yet – and there are still no legs on Meta’s VR avatars - but you will be able to build your own private realms and areas within the VR space.
As per Meta:
“People with access to the beta test will now have the ability to make visible members-only worlds – and anyone with access to Meta Horizon Worlds will be able to search for and request to join those members-only worlds, helping people grow their communities, find and make new ones in Worlds. Creators of members-only worlds will still have the option to keep their members-only worlds hidden if that’s their preference.”
The social aspect is a key part of Meta’s evolving metaverse experience, and it’s interesting to see how it’s working to build this element - though availability is still fairly limited, and will likely stay that way as Meta works to iron out all the kinks.
Those include issues with harassment and abuse, which can be even more overwhelming in more immersive environments, which is one of the key reasons why experts are urging governments to establish regulations for VR before it becomes more prevalent. However, based on past history, VR is unlikely to become a regulatory priority until it’s too late – but Meta is seemingly taking its development time with this in mind, as it builds these experiences.
But it’s not the metaverse that we’ve been promised as yet – it’s nowhere near the flashy, simulated, animated vision that Meta shared when it launched its re-brand back in 2021.
That’s clearly still some way off, and while each of these smaller developments will play a part in the bigger picture, it remains difficult, as yet, to focus on the distant VR horizon, and exactly where all those billions of dollars are going.
And again, we’re talking billions, with a ‘b’. Meta’s spend on VR development over the past 18 months alone exceeds the GDP of 40% of the nations in the world - which is why its current examples and publicly shared projects seem so far off the mark.
But Meta has said that it will take years, and each of these is another small step towards that next stage.
Using a VR headset in a BMW is a pretty niche interest area right now, but maybe, soon, it’ll be a bigger consideration in your vehicle purchase.
Meta says that it will be slowly rolling out the ability to create members-only worlds to a randomized group of people with access to Worlds. Horizon Worlds, at present, is available in Canada, France, Iceland, Ireland, Spain, the UK and the US.