InMarch of last year, Facebook acquired virtual reality pioneer Oculus VR for a whopping $2 billion. But why? Why does a social network need a VR company under its belt? Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg explained the rationale behind it in a post on his wall:
“Our mission is to make the world more open and connected…This is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.”
In other words, Zuckerberg believes the Oculus Rift, OVR’s in-development virtual reality headset, opens up entirely new ways to communicate, interact, and share life experiences with people around the world like we never have before. There’s a long road to get there, and Zuckerberg understands that the gaming industry will benefit first and foremost from the creation of the headset. He goes on:
“But this is just the start. After games, we’re going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face — just by putting on goggles in your home.”
And that’s what we’re here to do today: let’s envision the future of Oculus under Facebook’s leadership beyond the conventional use of gaming. Companies around the world are already getting started on some exciting initiatives that take advantage of Oculus VR’s baby. Let’s take a peek.
According to Variety, Facebook “has been aggressive in courting content makers to develop entertainment for the [Oculus Rift] ever since [the acquisition].” Production studio Jamwix produced the first feature-length film for the Rift. Banshee Chapter is described as an intense Lovecraftian horror pic that simulates an “in-scene” experience for the viewer. The film was designed from the ground-up with VR in mind. Jamwix invented Chimera VR software that allows any filmmaker to manipulate a 3D space for virtual reality purposes. “You can basically jack into any movie that you want,” says a Jamwix employee. “This isn’t just the future of movies, it’s the future of entertainment,” adds Jamwix art director Dylan Palmer. “You’re going to be able to experience it first hand.” Mash play in the video above to see how it all came together.
In an effort to show storytellers around the world that virtual reality is an art form, Oculus VR has created its very own in-house studio called Oculus Story Studio. This “experimental virtual reality cinema project” is currently comprised of a small team of creatives hailing from the film and game industries. They’re dedicated to exploring what they call “immersive cinema;” the idea is very much in line with Jamwix’s approach to the Rift: OVR want to enable “realtime story-driven VR experiences that let the viewer step inside and become part of the story.” Story Studio unveiled its first short film in January at the Sundance Film Festival. Lost is a four-minute film made specifically for the latest version of Rift, Crescent Bay. Story Studio creative director Saschka Unseld, director of Pixar short The Blue Umbrella, helmed Lost and used Unreal Engine 4 to splice together hand drawn and CG animation. Following its success at Sundance, OVR hopes to reel in more high profile storytellers to collaborate on future projects. Rob Stromberg (Maleficent) and Robin Hunicke (Journey) are already on board to make VR movie magic. Watch the video posted above to learn more about the inspiration behind Story Studio from Team Oculus.
In addition to making movies and documentaries for the Rift, Facebook and Oculus are spinning the headset into a great marketing tool for filmmakers. Prior to its theatrical release, Oculus partnered with director Christopher Nolan to promote his sci-fi flick Interstellar. Movie-goers had the opportunity to explore the world of Interstellar by virtually stepping aboard Matthew McConaughey’s spacecraft “The Endurance.” And this isn’t the first of its kind. Last summer Comic Con attendees could pilot a Jaeger in anticipation of Pacific Rim. Rift booths at theatres around the nation would be a great way to immerse audiences in movie previews like never before. Perhaps VR is the wave of the future for theatrical trailers!
Oculus VR is also dipping its toe in the auto industry. The company teamed up with Toyota to create a realistic driving simulator as part of Toyota’s TeenDrive 365 initiative to educate the public about safe driving habits. The VR experience places you inside a vehicle filled with all kinds of common distractions such as traffic noises, the radio, text messages, and virtual friends who occupy the passenger and back seats. A 100 degree field of view and 3D audio makes for a pretty realistic driving experience–you can literally look around the car and see and hear distractions coming from different directions. A virtual cell phone blinks with messages and it’s up to you to remain focused on the road and prevent an accident from happening. The Rift as an educational tool for young, inexperienced drivers is a fantastic idea that’s already being implemented today. Toyota’s “Distracted Driving Simulator” is currently on tour at auto shows around the nation. If you can’t make it to one, click here to watch a demo in action.
Elsewhere, Lexus is also experimenting with the Rift by creating VR simulator experiences focused on test driving new high-performance vehicles. The luxury car maker’s 2015 RC F sports coupe interior is rendered in 3D–including its steering column and foot pedals–so potential buyers can feel what it’s like to drive it around a race track. The demo, embedded above, may look video game-y, but at the end of the day this is yet another intriguing look at how the Rift can be used outside the realm of games.
The Oculus Rift, currently in its second iteration development kit, is still a clunky chunk of hardware that tends to heat up while in use and it requires a computer tether. But that isn’t stopping sports app maker Runtastic from developing exercise workouts using the head-mounted display. The company is investing time and effort in making realistic workout sessions and expansive environments to help gym rats escape their dull apartments and enter arenas that promote a healthy lifestyle. Slap on the Rift and choose from indoor and outdoor locations and a virtual trainer is there to help guide you along the way. You’ll also be privy to real-time on-screen stats pertaining to your session, and when you’re finished a summary of results is presented. It’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to partake in exercise with the hot-n-heavy Rift, but there’s no denying Runtastic’s positive intent here and the app’s potential to succeed once OVR makes its hardware lighter, untethered, and prime for portability.
Facebook made quite the investment in Oculus VR, and if you’ve been questioning its motives, you no longer should. It’s clear to see that while the Oculus Rift will no doubt help push the video game industry in exciting new directions, the social network is helping it reach new heights across a variety of unsuspecting places such as the film, auto, and fitness categories. And this is just the beginning. As Palmer Luckey and his team at OVR continue to make the Rift more technologically impressive with each development kit release, that will pave the way for more companies to jump on board and use the Rift in ways you may never imagined were possible.