This afternoon, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed the hopeful next big thing for his company: augmented reality, allowing people to use their phones to interact with the physical world through their phones — carving virtual messages into table tops, leaving notes in public for friends that only they can see, and creating public art that is nothing more than a blank wall with people staring at their smartphone screens.
Speaking at Facebook’s F8 conference for developers, Zuck claimed that his company would be offer the first real mainstream AR experience. While there are plenty of apps that can recognize faces and slap bunny ears or dog tongues on images and video, Facebook says its AR is built on three building blocks that will make it better than what’s currently available to consumers.
Use of precise locations will not only allow users to create AR objects in the real world, but have them placed in very specific locations. In this example, the user entered some text (“It’s Feeding Time”) and was able to place it on their breakfast table:
Zuckerberg says the ability to create AR objects with precise locations allows for things like being able to leave behind menu advice for friends at the actual restaurant, and right next to the menu:
Or virtually carve your name into a table at your favorite dive bar:
Or leave a note on a fridge without having to find a Post-It:
The other building block involves the ability to model a 3D world based on a two-dimensional image. Zuckerberg showed a photo of a room at Facebook HQ that was then virtually filled with things like water and Skittles:
The other key building block for Facebook’s AR plans involve object recognition — the ability to not just recognize the shape and location of an object, but also identify what that object is. That would allow for AR objects that are specific to the real-world items seen on your phone.
In today’s example, Zuckerberg showed a table with a coffee cup, wine bottle, and a plant. The AR recognized each item as something unique, then presented options like animated steam clouds coming out of the coffee, a storm cloud over the plant, and helpful wine labels for the vino:
Zuckerberg noted the potential for AR in the arts, pointing to an “installation” currently sort-of on display at Facebook HQ: To most people, it’s just a blank white wall, but to people using Facebook AR, it’s a massive piece of public art.
While Facebook is launching a closed beta of its AR program today, Zuckerberg cautioned folks that none of this is coming in the immediate future.
“It’s gonna take a while for this to develop,” said the CEO. “Over time, I do think that this is going to be a really important technology that changes how we use our phones.”
If you’re not thrilled about the idea of a world where people spend even more time viewing the world through their phone screens, Zuckerberg says the ultimate goal is to integrate this AR technology into glasses at some point… Which would at least allow us to pretend to make eye contact with other human beings while really doing something else more entertaining.